Pike, Flies, and Tubes
Blog by: David Coulson 4/16/2015
Pike420’s response to my last blog on float tubes got me thinking about past Canada trips for northern pike.
Flies are most often associated with trout. Once you expand you definition of a fly from aquatic insect imitations to include other foods, you quickly realize there are other species that feed shallow and make great sport on the long rod. Northern pike are such fish.
My foray into pike fishing started in the eighties, when I was invited to join a group on their annual trip to northern Saskatchewan to fish primarily for northerns. That trip turned into a dozen more over the next couple decades. While many used conventional gear, and I even carried spinning gear the first couple trips, it didn’t take long for me to decide the ole water wolf was a perfect target for fly fishers.
Now fly fishing for pike is only similar to trout fishing in that you’re using a fly rod, reel, and line. Big rods are desirable to cast big streamers, up to 12 inches. Depending on the pattern I opt for either a 7 or 9-wt. Leader is typically 12-15 lb. with a section of 40 lb. mono for bite tippet. My favorite flies are 6-10 inch deceivers, and big bucktails. They’re light and quickly shed water on the cast. When I want to get deeper I use sinking lines and/or whistlers. Although, mice patterns were a blast also, there’s something about watching a “mouse” get blasted by a big pike that’s rather satisfying.
While we took small boats, 12-16 feet aluminum wit 10-20 hp. motors typically, we didn’t fish from them very often. Rather we opted to use them for transport. We took up float tubes, ferried them to any number of shallow bays, beached the boats and fished from tubes. The tubes didn’t seem to spook the fish the way a boat could when they were laying shallow, as in just enough water to cover their backs. Often all you had to do was put a fly within a few feet of the fish. We'd watch the fish’s reaction, if it went on alert or moved toward the fly, a little strip/twitch was often all it took to elicit a violent strike. Sometimes they’d literally blow the fly into the air, missing it. A second cast would often get the job done.
Catching lots of fish was never an issue. So I almost always fished 8-inch or larger flies, trying to minimize the numbers of fish under 30 inches, much preferring to tangle with the big girls over 40 inches. While the idea of being in the water with all those teeth was mildly troublesome at first, the reality is I never once had my tube damaged by a fish, hands, oh yeah, as I didn’t carry a net. Even when I landed my personal best, a 54-inch brute while it a tube, only my hands sustained damage from the fish.
One day, two of us pulled into a small cove we’d not fished before. As we beached the boat we noted a number of pike that looked to be in the 40-inch class. Launching our tubes we slowly worked our way into casting distance. I made the first cast to the outside of the group. Hesitated and then started my retrieve. I didn’t see any of the group follow, so when the fly was within a few feet of my rod tip, I lifted the rod to cast. At that point a very big fish, that I hadn’t noticed, exploded on the fly, missing it, landing a couple feet from my crotch. She turned and moved off. Needless to say, it rattled me for a few seconds. My buddy was laughing his ass off, but managed to say, “Hey, Dave, I thought you were a goner on that one!”
Nope, I’ve never had a tube damaged by a northern pike, but that doesn’t mean that “swimming” with them is necessarily relaxing.
Ajax5240, CO 4/16/2015 10:44:06 AM
Dave, you sure do get around and catch a variety of fish on that bendy rod!!
pike420, CO 4/16/2015 11:25:08 AM
I've also been up north fishing for esox! Those trips are still the best fishing I've ever experienced. The only bad part was the fact that I had not been a fly fishermen at that point in my life. I've made the trek north about 5 times between the ages of 10-15 years old. I started flyfishing @ 16 & tying @ 18. I'm 29 now and wont be satisfied until I make the trip back but when I do, I'm bringing the fly rod, my best Colorado pike flies and my bellyboat. All I need now are the funds to make the journey up Saskatchewan way!!!!! Any help would be appreciated!!!
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO 4/16/2015 1:05:31 PM
I can speak to what I do fly fishing for pike, if that's the help you're looking for. However, on the funds front your on your own. I have the same issue. For pike flies, a book on salt water patterns is a great place to start.
PikeD, CO 4/18/2015 11:23:10 AM
My first "big fish" was a 36" pike from Spinney on a fly rod. We used to wade out into the lake on memorial day and cast. The last time this worked for me though was 2006. the Williams fork mud flats also have lots of fish near memorial day.