People lament the 'apparent' lack of fly friendly species in the UK. Contrary to popular belief, we actually have a huge range of 'fly friendly' species, in fact most freshwater species (yes, including Eels, Catfish and Barbel amongst others). We are not reinventing the wheel, as there has been a core of anglers who have always fished flies for coarse fish along with a growing band of anglers who have had the penny drop, realising that coarse fish get to the sizes they do eating pretty much the same range of foodstuff that trout do. Consequently, not only do we have many other species to target but a vast and ever growing array of flies with which to tempt them - So, 'game on' - and get stuck-in!
The following methods and range of flies are to do with fly fishing for Pike, and can be equally well applied to zander, perch, chub and of course, big browns. It is documented that fly fishing for pike was popular in the early 1700's in this country, as was dapping for Dace on the Thames in the 1800's. There are even tales of a 721b Pike with a skull measuring over 11" across being taken on a 'Harled' 1ft long peacock feathered fly! Although such 'lore' has for centuries inspired and intrigued anglers, I am reluctant to quote such examples. I acknowledge the interest that modern, and old, 'tales' evoke is essential to new and experienced anglers (in terms of mystique and excitement), however, some lore has sensationalised fish negatively. Pike are one such species prone to this, perhaps more than others, and they don't deserve it. Neither in their own right as a game fish every bit equal to 'other species' fly-fisherman pursue, or in their own standing ecologically, but more of that later.
A lot has been written with some fly 'authorities' suggesting up to 18 weights! Given the fact that most shark, marlin and sailfish are taken on 14-16 weights, I would be interested to see someone casting an 18 weight all day for pike! Given the fact that a 40-60 lbs tarpon can be tamed on an 9 or 10 weight, there is not need to 'horse' a pike out on a broomstick. Use ratings from 7 weight up to 11 weight (which will handle really large flies and wind), with 9 weight being the optimum for most conditions. Use 9 to 9ft 6in rods with a fast taper or middle to tip action - as found with the Hardy Elite, Orvis, Sage and Thomas and Thomas range. These are most suitable for turning over large, non aerodynamic flies.
Weight forward will suffice, but Pike/Bass Bug Tapers are optimum for fly turnover. The range from floater to fast Hi D's (shooting heads etc) can be used, dependent on conditions. If you had to choose one single style I have used a 10 weight sink tip extensively over the years. I can cover from the surface to very deep with it. However, a choice of lines is a better option. Very important is to stretch and 'dress' fly line prior to fishing.
Most reels with either click or disc drags will suffice. Just make sure it's loaded properly with backing and check your connections.
Line tray/strippinq basket
Fairly essential when using shooting heads, marginal fishing or boat fishing to prevent 'break-offs' and protect line.
Despite what has been written elsewhere on pike flies, patterns have tended to revolve around Deceivers, Streamers, Muddlers and 'Bunny Bugs' - Zonker, Strips, Water Pups/Leeches etc. As a result, flies remain fairly limited. Some Pike fly 'authorities' have even written that they have "yet to take a pike on a surface or dry fly"! Pike are dogged, heavy fighters and you are unlikely to see your backing that often (unless you hook them in the tail!), so follows and takes, particularly on the surface, are perhaps some of the most exciting aspects of fly fishing for pike! I tend to start on the surface with buoyant flies at most times of the year and continue fishing them through the layers 'booby style' which has consistently proved to be a very versatile and productive method over the years. There are countless styles and sizes that are effective and, although there is the theory that big-meals equals big fish, it is equally important that if fish (although opportunistic) are preoccupied on small bait - then 'match the hatch'!
Flies fitted with weed guards are the most versatile and favoured, due partly to reasons of safety and the fact that you are mainly fishing on, over or around cover (or should be). Synthetic materials will reduce wet weight and closing barbs will also increase safety. Although I have used tandem hooks in the past, I seldom do now. What you may gain in hook-up ratio, you loose in safety (both for yourself and the fish), versatility (snagging), casting, weight and fly performance. And after all, if a big old Essox girl wants it she'll have it!
Trace and Leaders
Ten years ago I started using swivels, snap links and rings for pike and now don't. These impede casting and fly performance considerably and they provide additional 'links' in your terminal rig which could fail - so keep it simple. Trace wire should be a minimum of 6 to 8" and attached to your fly with either crimps, a 'twist melt' or knotted. Loops at the other end of the trace should be attached to your leader with an Albright knot, as it withstands repetitive hinging the best. Leaders (min. 101b) can be straight, stepped or tapered, 2 to 10ft long and attached to your fly line via a loop to facilitate changing.
Retrieves and takes
Folks, this is fishing. Just because the species is different, the rules don't change. In fact, there are no hard and fast rules! The only advice I can give is to follow the 'TVR' principle with any or all of your fishing - THINK, VARY your retrieves and RELAX! Takes, as with most species, can vary from gentle inhalations to voracious pulls - expect the unexpected.
Understanding, handling and respecting your quarry
At the risk of sounding like the president of the 'Pike Fan Club', I'm presenting the facts as they are - facts. When people refer to pike, terms like 'toothy terrors', 'vicious fangs', 'sickle-shaped backward pointing', 'one way ticket' etc, serve no positive purpose. References like these make people more afraid, less confident and more likely to handle fish poorly. Contrary to popular belief, despite their size and appearance, they are delicate and suffer more from stress than we think. This is mainly due to the fact that they normally give more pressure than they receive. They are also the only fish to have an impact on, and connection with, all other freshwater species in UK and as a result are a vital and integral link.
Essential items are a large knotless net, forceps or hook-out, unhooking mat and specialised unhooking glove (try the Normark ones) - do not use gardening/building or other gloves, gaffs, knotted nets and hard, non-grassy banks! Remain calm, be positive and firm, but gentle. Where possible, get advice from experienced anglers prior to fishing and try as often as you can to unhook fish in the water and hold them over water for photos. Laying fish on their backs carefully will minimise stress, as will reducing their time out of water. Support your fish until it is fully recovered prior to releasing it.
Pike are the species that play the biggest role in influencing the equilibrium within the ecology of a water system. This is due to the fact that they are the 'top of the chain' predator in their environment and affect the balance as follows. They have co-existed amongst all species for thousands of years before man came along and perform a far bigger role than most people think.
Firstly, they control their own numbers. They have a strong preference for their own flesh, as metabolically it is the easiest for them to convert to body weight. Consequently, when man tries to 'control' pike by removing them, there will invariably be an explosion of small fish the following season. Instead of having one mouth to feed on a daily basis, you may now have 20 mouths to feed and small pike (jacks), often with a higher metabolic rate, are far more likely to chase Parr and Smolts. With current levels of concern - regarding our salmon situation with its loss of numbers, disease, spring runs and degradation of habitat from spawning to feeding - all of these points are relevant.
Secondly, Pike are opportunists and operate on a very efficient level, i.e. minimum output for maximum energy and growth gain. As a result, they have a marked preference for sick, injured or weak fish. Imagine a run of salmon or sea trout with some fish bearing signs of 'UDN' or 'ISA'. Without a predator present to remove diseased fish, you could write off your whole breeding stock and subsequent runs. We know the expression 'survival of the fittest' and nature does not lie. As weaker fish are cropped by pike, nature ensures that the gene pool is not depleted. Only fish with the strongest genes will survive and they'll pass them on through subsequent generations.
Thirdly, pike also show a preference for Cyprinids (carp, bream, roach etc.) due to easier catch and conversion ratios. It is widely known that carp for example (which unlike pike, are an introduced species) being bottom feeders, eat the eggs of other species, create turbidity and cause spawning beds to silt up. This creates a loss of Macrophyte diversity (plant life - IFM 1998) which in turn reduces, for example, Dragonfly species. A study run during the early to mid 80s by an American wildlife division, concluded that "reduced competition with non game fish as a result of pike predation, has greatly benefited the growth of salmonids".
I hope this not only demonstrates what an important and worthy fellow he is, but also as a quarry, pike represent the fly fishers best opportunity in the UK of catching a truly wild, native 15-201b fish. Fly fishing has to be the most exciting way of catching them and I hope I've inspired you to give it a try. It's fantastic fun.