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PIKE ON THE FLY: PART 2

by Steven Neely

WITH WINTER UPON US, IT'S TIME TO LOOK AT CHANGING TACTICS
WHEN CHASING PIKE IN THE COLDER MONTHS.

With spring now a distant memory it’s time to reflect back upon the highlight of the pike fly angler’s year and take the opportunity to process and evaluate time spent on the water.

Taking note of both our successful days and not so successful days can be invaluable; we should be learning from both. It’s all too easy to spend a great day on the water catching fish but not look closely at what made that day so prolific, and even easier to spend a poor day on the water blaming weather, time of the year or fish being “switched off” when in fact we could be doing it completely wrong.

Spring and autumn are prime times in the calendar with spring generally being more prolific. However it’s important to bear in mind that these two periods can fish completely differently.

SEASONAL CHANGES

Recent years have seen me spend a fair amount of time on Rutland, a large expanse off technically challenging water probably not best suited to the inexperienced pike fly angler. But what do we mean by technically challenging? 

Rutland requires the ability to understand pike behaviour, where the coarse fish they prey upon are likely to be and how their movement may well dictate where the pike will be located.

This in turn creates a multitude of different fishing scenarios, requiring the ability to fish in shallow and deep water and how to use the various different densities of fly lines available to the pike fly angler.

Rutland provides us with a near textbook environment to hunt pike on the fly.

As we creep into autumn and winter, the areas where we found pike in the spring are not necessarily where we should be looking now.

Weed beds that bloom in the spring and summer, providing safe havens for baitfish, are starting to decay. These weed beds made great ambush locations for the pike.

As the weed decays and uses dissolved oxygen, it may turn the water brown. The baitfish will move and start to shoal in warmer parts off the lake as the water temperatures start to drop. Inevitably the pike will follow.

FLY PRESENTATION

This is where decent sonar equipment comes in to play. If you haven’t previously been on the water and do not know where the baitfish are congregating, it is worth moving around until you locate them.

It’s also worth noting that they can disappear in the blink off an eye. More than once Guy Eldridge and myself have been out on Rutland knowing where huge shoals off baitfish were, only for them to disappear without trace overnight.

Once located however, a drift is usually set well above them. Pike don’t always sit right on the baitfish and it’s worth fishing the surrounding area. This is similar to the dirty shallow water we look for in the spring. If the pike are not hunting in the dirty water it is worth fishing the clear, adjacent water.

At this time of the year though I usually start off by fishing out the side of the boat, sweeping the fly round in an arc. This may sound pretty straightforward but there are various scenarios that can reduce the effectiveness of this technique, the main one being the speed the boat is drifting. I like the line to sweep round in a continuous arc during the drift until the fly has returned to the boat.

If you are drifting too quickly you can end up with the fly line sweeping round and straightening out behind the boat before you’ve finished your retrieve. Now I’m not suggesting you won’t catch pike on a fly that is being retrieved on a straight line out the back of the boat, but it is not where I prefer my fly to be!

To help avoid this try casting slightly more into the wind and making a mend on the line to straighten it up as soon as it hits the water. This technique is all about the timing.

The ability to put your line in the correct place and choosing the correct density of line in relation to where the pike are in the water column and how far they are willing to travel to intercept your fly are all key elements here.

FLY PRESENTATION

This is where decent sonar equipment comes in to play. If you haven’t previously been on the water and do not know where the baitfish are congregating, it is worth moving around until you locate them.

It’s also worth noting that they can disappear in the blink off an eye. More than once Guy Eldridge and myself have been out on Rutland knowing where huge shoals off baitfish were, only for them to disappear without trace overnight.

Once located however, a drift is usually set well above them. Pike don’t always sit right on the baitfish and it’s worth fishing the surrounding area. This is similar to the dirty shallow water we look for in the spring. If the pike are not hunting in the dirty water it is worth fishing the clear, adjacent water.

At this time of the year though I usually start off by fishing out the side of the boat, sweeping the fly round in an arc. This may sound pretty straightforward but there are various scenarios that can reduce the effectiveness of this technique, the main one being the speed the boat is drifting. I like the line to sweep round in a continuous arc during the drift until the fly has returned to the boat.

If you are drifting too quickly you can end up with the fly line sweeping round and straightening out behind the boat before you’ve finished your retrieve. Now I’m not suggesting you won’t catch pike on a fly that is being retrieved on a straight line out the back of the boat, but it is not where I prefer my fly to be!

To help avoid this try casting slightly more into the wind and making a mend on the line to straighten it up as soon as it hits the water. This technique is all about the timing.

The ability to put your line in the correct place and choosing the correct density of line in relation to where the pike are in the water column and how far they are willing to travel to intercept your fly are all key elements here.

THE RETRIEVE

My preferred retrieve for this technique is a steady figure-of-eight. The most successful speed of retrieve can depend on how fast the boat is drifting.

Although the figure-of-eight retrieve can be devastatingly effective, it can also give a large, wary pike too much time to inspect and reject the fly, or simply follow it to the boat without fully committing. It’s also worth noting here that follows to the boat, at times, are more than likely down to flies being too big or retrieved too slowly.

This is where we can throw the pike a curveball! Using one of my lightly weighted jig flies, the cast is made at the correct angle out the side of the boat. The first part of my retrieve is a steady figure-of-eight, then half way through I’ll change to a strip and pause and jig the lightly weighted fly back.

Changing the retrieve half way through can turn a wary fish into a taking fish. The increased speed of retrieve can also compensate for a boat that is pushing through too quickly on the drift.

At this time of year, before we’re into the depths of winter, I’ll usually start out the side of the boat with a Di3, even over depths of 20 feet plus. I prefer working the upper layers of the water column first then working my way down, usually with a Di5 then a Di7. You would be surprised at how far a pike is willing to move to take a fly even over deep water in the autumn.

FLY CHOICE

As for fly choice I tend to use the same flies as I do in the spring. The location chosen to fish, the depth

flies are presented at and the speed of retrieve are all probably more important than the actual fly itself.

I only carry one large pattern in my box, a black and copper streamer around eight inches long. It covers pretty much any situation I come up against throughout the season.

Confidence in what you are doing is key to success and this only comes by spending time on the water. Fly fishing for pike properly isn’t something that can be learnt over the course of one or even several seasons, it takes years of practise to master it.

Learn to use all the different angles around the boat to your advantage, have multiple techniques up your sleeve and do not fall into the trap of simply casting a fly downwind from a drifting boat and pulling it straight back.

Anybody can catch pike on the fly when they are switched on and up for it. The real skill is tempting a large pike to take your offering when they are switched off and not actively feeding.

There are so many different variables involved in fly fishing for pike successfully. Leader length in relation to the density of the fly line and weight of fly being used, for example, can make the difference between a great day and an average day.

This is something we will look at in more depth in the next post. 

PAUL CLYDESDALE

FLY CHOICE

As for fly choice I tend to use the same flies as I do in the spring. The location chosen to fish, the depth

flies are presented at and the speed of retrieve are all probably more important than the actual fly itself.

I only carry one large pattern in my box, a black and copper streamer around eight inches long. It covers pretty much any situation I come up against throughout the season.

Confidence in what you are doing is key to success and this only comes by spending time on the water. Fly fishing for pike properly isn’t something that can be learnt over the course of one or even several seasons, it takes years of practise to master it.

Learn to use all the different angles around the boat to your advantage, have multiple techniques up your sleeve and do not fall into the trap of simply casting a fly downwind from a drifting boat and pulling it straight back.

Anybody can catch pike on the fly when they are switched on and up for it. The real skill is tempting a large pike to take your offering when they are switched off and not actively feeding.

There are so many different variables involved in fly fishing for pike successfully. Leader length in relation to the density of the fly line and weight of fly being used, for example, can make the difference between a great day and an average day.

This is something we will look at in more depth in the next post. 

PAUL CLYDESDALE

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