How To Fly Fish for Big Pelagic Pike
By Peter Corzilius
Fly fishing for pike is very popular in Europe and North America. No wonder, since the toothy predator is found in many different types of waters, everywhere around the northern hemisphere. In Europe and Scandinavia, pike is one of the most common fish to target with a fly rod. And pike grow quite big. A trophy trout is still small compared to a good sized pike. Fish around 100cm in length are common, the magic mark in weight is 10 kg (around 22lbs) and fish around 2-4 kg (4,4-8,8lbs) are considered small. How do you catch such fish on a fly? Well, it depends…
Pike eat in different ways, depending on the water they live in. In smaller rivers and lakes they are the masters of hide and seek. They wait in vegetation or other structure until baitfish pass their hiding place. Then they attack with vicious speed and 700 teeth, leaving their prey no chance to escape. An interesting fact to consider when tying your streamers; it is well proven, that pike can attack, kill and swallow prey that are about 70% of their own size! If you catch a smaller pike in open water, it might be scarred badly by its older brothers, think about it – smaller pike around 70cm can end up as food to a big pike!
Pike were actually the first fish that I fished for when I started fly fishing. And as much as I love a dry fly take of a good trout or char, big pike on the fly never gets old! And as I said before, their style of hunting depends a lot on the water that they live in. My favourite type of water to target them in are big lakes where pike become pelagic predators. It usually happens somewhere around the mark of 5 kg, when pike leave the safety of vegetation and shallow water close to the shore, to live and hunt out in the open. Once they do that, they target large prey such as pelagic whitefish and herring and grow big and strong. To find and catch those big pelagic pike with a fly rod one has to rethink pike fishing.
As fly anglers we are used to reading waters, currents and structure. Once you get yourself out in the open, there is not much left to read. While fly fishing for pike in rivers and smaller lakes can be quite similar to trout fishing with a streamer, fly fishing for pelagic pike is a whole new world. One of my favourite lakes for that kind of fly fishing is around the size of 500 soccer fields – and this is considered a smaller lake for that type of fishing. There are three cornerstones for that kind of fly fishing. The first one is to locate baitfish, the second on is the streamer, the last one is patience. The easy way to locate baitfish is a sonar, but it can be done by observing birds that dive and feed on fish as well. Sometimes you can even see species as the common whitefish feeding in the surface in big schools. Be sure, there is a big pike underneath them, waiting for its chance...
Your streamer has to be BIG – why? Because those big lakes we find pelagic pike in are normally very clear, so pike can see long distances. This is a big plus, because they might see and attack a streamer that is 5, 10, even 20 meters away. Therefore, we can cover a lot of water, even with a fly rod. Your streamer has to have a big silhouette, that is interesting for big pike, even if it is quite far away. Moreover the baitfish pelagic pike target are mostly around 25-35cm in size – talk about matching the hatch.
So this leaves you with streamers in that size, Bucktail-Pushers, Beastflies and big EP-Streamers. To throw those bad boys and set those hooks I bring out the big guns. Fly lines with a shooting head design, with a full sinking head in 400-700 grains with a floating or intermediate running line and rods, that can handle those insane weights, like the Bandit and the Boca Grande.
Fun fact: I did this style of fishing for a long time, even before I turned to the ‘glass-side’ of fly fishing – be assured, casting streamers like that all day with a carbon rod feels not half as good as with a big glass stick! About the patience; there are waters where it's easy to catch 20 pike around 5 kg a day, but if you target pelagic pike there might go some days without a single take... now the big question; why all that struggle? Well, imagine that you're on a boat, in the middle of nowhere, 30 meters of water under your boat, the next shore hundreds of meters away, you're stripping home your monster-streamer, feeling the bucktail-head pushing water in the depth... then you strip strike into a train, at least that is how it feels, heavy head shakes, you bend your rod to the max and force the fish to the boat. The feeling when a really big pike comes to the surface alongside your boat is indescribable – but it sometimes feels like being in a story by Hemmingway. - Tight lines!