Weeds and Structures
Pike can be found in rivers and lakes. Pike are ambush predators, so typically, I am looking for areas where pike can ambush bait fish. Pike typically do not cruise around searching for food. They will lurk motionless in the cover of weeds or other structure waiting for prey to come to them. Weed beds are an excellent place to target as pike will sit in the weeds waiting for an unsuspecting bait fish. Lilly pads, milfoil are good places to target in lakes. In a river, one place to target are slower, swampy/slack looking water next to faster moving water – like a back eddy off the main current. Mouths of tributaries, drop offs, points, submerged trees are places where smaller fish (prey) will travel by and pike will be nearby.
- 7 – 10 wt Single Hand Rod
- Floating Line
- Intermediate Line
- Full Sink Line
- Wire Tippet or 60-90# Fluorocarbon
- Wire Cutters, Long Pliers, Jaw Spreaders and a Large Net
Rod Weight Depends on the FLy you are throwing
- 2-5 inch Fly = 7/8 Wt Rod
- 6-10 Inch Fly = 10 Wt Rod
- Larger Game Changers
- Flies with a Buford Head
- Articulated Heads
You don't have to throw big pike flies
You don’t have to throw big flies to catch pike. I have caught pike on size 2 woolly buggers. The most exciting way to catch pike – top water, of course! My favorite topwater fly is the Howitzer baitfish popper.
I think that the most important piece of equipment is the fly line. I will use floating line, intermediate lines, and full sink lines depending on the season and time of day I am fishing. The intermediate line is the line that I use the most, and tend to use it in the late spring to summer months, as well, as early morning or sunset fishing. I use a full sinking line for the fall and during the mid-day, as pike tend to go deeper during these times.
If using a floating line, you will want a line that has a short heavy head that can load the road quickly and helps turnover larger heavier flies, like the Orvis Hydros Bank Shot line. If you are not able to have multiple lines, a floating line paired with a polyleader is also a great way to fish.
I typically keep my leader relatively short, around 5-7 feet. 5 feet of level monofilament (30-40#) is a very simple leader. Typically, I will run about 2.5 feet of 40# nylon or fluorocarbon to 2.5 feet of 25# nylon or fluorocarbon to 2 feet of bite tippet. I use 20-30# of knottable wire as my bite tippet (Rio, Surflon 7×7).
Wire Bite Tippet
You could also use 60-80# fluorocarbon for bite tippet. You can tie a clinch knot or non-slip mono loop knot with the wire. You can also tie the wire to a #4 stay-lock snap.
Stay Locks or Quick Clips
The advantage of a stay-lock snap is that you can it saves you time and wire when changes flies as you can simply clip and unclip the fly quickly. Also the stay-lock snap allows the fly to move freely in the water giving it more life and movement. Bite tippet is necessary as pike are toothy critters and have sharp teeth that can easily bite through 40# monofilament.
Oval or Belgium Style Cast
A oval or Belgium style cast is my recommended cast if you are using heavy or large flies and/or sinking line. It is difficult to keep a traditional tight loop that we would use in trout fishing. Generally, your loops will be more open. Heavy flies will collapse your leader/line system if you employ a straight line casting style. An oval cast keeps the line under constant tension which prevents the leader from collapsing. It helps keep the heavy flies from colliding into your rod tip while casting. While not essential, learning to haul will also help improve distance.
After the fly is in the water, as with all streamer fishing, try a variety of retrieves. Slow, fast, erratic, long pauses, anything can work. And, Strip set!!!
Unhook and Release a pike Safely
One thing to keep in mind about pike is that they are slimy slippery fish and they have sharp teeth! The goal of unhooking a pike is to keep both yourself and the fish healthy. Never ever put your hand/fingers in a pike’s mouth! Their teeth can cause a lot of damage. Never “lip” a pike for the same reason. A net is helpful so that you can keep the fish in the water while you are preparing to unhook the pike.
One method to handle a pike is to perform a gill-plate grab. This grab controls the pike’s head and if done correctly, can help prevent a pike from sliding out of your grip and falling on the hard ground or boat floor. The gill-plate grab: Finger make a “U” (thumb not included). Slip fingers under the gill plate/cover which is on the undersurface of the head. The gill plate will always be white. Be sure not to put your fingers in the gills of the pike, which are red. In addition to damaging the gills, the gills have rakers which are like little teeth and can cut your fingers/knuckles. Place gentle outward pressure on the gill cover with your fingers. Place your thumb along the outside groove of the gill cover. Pinch your index and middle finger against the thumb in order to maintain control.
Jaw spreaders or long fliers
If you are not comfortable using a gill-plate grab, jaw spreaders and long pliers can be a good substitute. Gently grab the back of the pike’s head from above, preferable with the pike in the water. Turn the pike to the side and gently place the jaw spreaders . Take care to place the jaw spreaders on the bony portion of the jaw and not the thin membrane of that makes up part of their lower jaw. Use long pliers to remove the hook. If you can’t remove the hook because it is too deep, best to cut the hook as close as possible and release the pike.
As with trout, when taking a picture with the pike, try to limit the time out of water. Support the pike by both its head and body. Try not to hold a large pike completely vertical as that may crush and disrupt their internal organs. This is especially true of larger pike. Ideally, hold a pike in a more horizontal position. A gill plate grab can be used or you can support the pike just behind it’s head. Fingers between the pectoral fins can help control the head. And support the lower half by the tail or gentle hold the body by positioning your hands near the anal fins.
Releasing a Pike
When releasing a pike, you may need to revive the fish. It may take 30 seconds or may take 5 mins. Support the fish for as long as needed. Hold the tail to support the pike. No need to move the pike back and forth in the water. It is preferable to hold them still. Occasionally, turn them to their side. If they don’t right themselves, they are not yet recovered. When a pike is recovered, it will right itself when turned on its side, and will start to move it’s tail. At that point, it is okay to let them go.
Watch the August UWOTF Virtual Meeting Presentation on Pike, Carp and Musky Fishing Tips. Co-Hosts – Jenn Hsia, Lino Jubilado and Nome Stark.
Connect with Jenn hSia
I am passionate and obsessed fly angler from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. I found fly fishing relatively late in life – I started fly fishing as a way to explore the Minnesota outdoors more. It is the state of ten thousand lakes, after all. My first love is trout, but I have really come to enjoy targeting warm water species such as bass, pike, carp. My dream fish would be a musky on the fly!
I fish mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. I am excited about taking my first fly fishing trip to Utah this summer.
When I am not fishing, I work in healthcare. I enjoy travelling, hiking, and eating all the food!