Thoughts on Pike
Pike certainly have some dedicated fans, but they tend to garner less attention than bass and trout. On the one hand I can understand why, but at the same time it seems a bit of a mystery. Personally, I like pike. They’re fun to catch and they are fairly abundant with generous seasons. Add to that their capability of growing into the 20lb range and potential as table fair and it makes sense that folks like them although some regard them merely as a competitor with more desirable species like trout and bass.
When I undertook my first serious fishing endeavors pike were akin to an enigma wrapped in a myth. I had heard stories and even seen pictures and read articles, but I had never caught one and didn’t know anyone who actually had. I can’t recall catching my first pike but I don’t think I set out to do so. It just happened. I was probably in the Adirondacks of New York fishing for whatever was in the mood to bite and hooked one. My interest built from there in a sort of slow, coalescence of desire to catch more pike, knowledge of where to do so and basic understanding of how to do it. Over the past several years I have caught many more and have learned a few things.
Pike are one of very few species that I have been able to reliably catch year around. From the beginning of the season in early spring and all the way into the sweltering sweat box of August I have found pike. When the air and water cools off again in November I have still found a tight line in pike territory and when the water turns hard and the tip ups come out a pike or two has found it’s way to my hook. In spite of this abundance my preferred times to rig for pike are spring and fall when the water is cool but the air temperatures are still pleasant. I have found that these seasons are some of the best times to catch them. They put up a nice fight with runs and stationary pulling dominated by violent head shakes that I have come to strongly associate with pike. If you want to keep a few fish, the cold water temperatures are ideal for firming up the flesh and making fine eating. It seems the pike also get more active when the water is cool, but not frigid. I have had several experiences of spring and fall fishing that produced several pike when other times of year I have only brought one or two to my hand.
The characteristic I have learned to most closely attach to pike is specificity. Finding a weed bed with one pike could very well produce more, but focusing on a two foot section of weed bed that yields a fish is much more likely to spit out several. One summer I was fishing a small lake in the Adirondacks (“pond” as it was formally known due to the shallow depth) and caught six or seven pike in an hour. It was a fairly windy day but that did not deter me from taking a canoe out. It was one of my favorite canoes, an old town Discovery. They are a bit heavy if you have to portage, but they are stable! I can comfortably stand up and cast a fly rod without ever feeling insecure. On this particular day I never touched the fly rod on account of the wind but opted instead for a six foot medium-heavy action spinning rod. I had 10 pound line rigged, one of my favorites for pike and a nine inch 12 pound steel leader, to which I had fastened a Lucky Strike red, white and silver half wave spoon. I am not sure of the weight but I think it was a 1/2 oz. After prospecting in a weed bed I hooked and landed a pike of approximately 24.” A few casts later I had another of comparable size. I took notice of the fact that the second fish was hooked on a cast that landed in almost exactly the same spot as the first. I dropped anchor and tried casting all around the canoe, thinking I was in a hot spot. Every time I came around to the original spot I hooked a fish. But it had to be the exact spot. The wind threw off my casting just enough to alter the lure’s landing spot by a few feet. This was no good. But when the lure hit the right spot I could readily predict a fish.
I have caught pike on a fly but I am sad to say I have never tied into anything remarkable. The biggest one I ever got might have gone 21” and I have caught only a half dozen others. Had I been using a 5 or 6 weight it might have been a fun time, but my 8 weight took most of the fight out of them. I like fishing Clauser Minnows and Deceiver-style flies the best. They are not as air resistant as the large bass bug flies tend to be and therefore cast much easier. They are also simple and fairly fast to tie which is important because pike flies take a beating. Between the needle-sharp teeth of the pike and the raspy sandpaper mouths of bass that often get caught while pike fishing it is likely your flies will get chewed up in a hurry. As for fly lines I like a sinking line of slow sink rate. This allows me to get a fly down fairly deep when I need to as well as let me fish topwater flies without too much trouble. A bottle of fly sink is a great help. This works just like dry fly floatant except it does the opposite. Flies tied with lots of deer hair tend to remain buoyant until they get a complete drenching. Fly sink helps them cut through the surface tension and descend rapidly.
Pike offer a reasonable challenge, and quite a good one if you are after a trophy fish in the 20lb range. I won’t pretend to have sorted out all their mysteries but after developing a taste for pike fishing I have learned a few things that have helped me catch them with a degree of regularity. I may spend most of my time on the water going after trout, but I still like pike a whole lot.