"Esox lucius, Torpedoes with Teeth"
Northern pike, Esox lucius, are torpedoes with teeth. They are killing machines, predators that feed on almost anything that swims; fish, frogs, mice, small muskrats, ducklings, turtles, crayfish, scuds, damselflies and mayfly nymphs. Pike hunt by eyesight, hide near cover; lily pads, stumps, rocks, edges of lakes and prey on sick and helpless creatures that venture past.
The best northern pike fishing is found in remote Canadian lakes, which are tailor made to the needs of big pike. Here are ample supplies of forage fish and cool water temperatures, which allow pike to live longer and grow larger. A 40" pike in many of these Canadian lakes weighs 20 lbs. and is 20 years old. Many of Canada’s best trophy pike areas receive little fishing pressure and are limited to catch and release and fishing. Often the only summer travel in or out is by floatplane.
One of the best times to fish for trophy northern pike is the spring (mid-June), the first two or three weeks after ice leaves the lake during the post-spawn season. At this time, all sizes and sexes of pike can be found together in the shallow water, 1-6 feet. Here the pike are most active and will feed voraciously during a 3-8 week period. The fish will hold in the shallow water until the water temperature reaches 68 degrees.
During the spring a fly rod is an excellent choice of tackle, as pike will eagerly take a fly. Typical bass and/or saltwater gear work well with 9-foot rods for 7-9 wgt. lines (7’s for smaller fish and 9 for larger fish) and single action reels being the best choices. One should have several rods rigged and ready to go, two rods with different sink tips (Cortland QD 325 grain and Teeney 450 grain) and streamers and a third rod with a floating line (weight forward or bass bug tapers) and a popper.
Pike are excellent fighters, capable of 30-40 ft. runs. The bigger fish will often pull enough to move a 16-ft. aluminum boat. Although after the initial strike and fight, most fish are easily landed. Moderately priced reels with disc drags; Lamson LP, Scientific Anglers System II and Teton/Tioga model 8, are well suited for pike.
Leaders are the most important part of the fly tackle when fishing for northern pike. They must be resistant to bite through. Incorporating 18 lb. braided, nylon covered wire for a shock tippet into a mono/wire system leader works well. A simple leader uses a 20-lb. mono butt section and a braided wire tippet. One can use loop knots to join the mono and wire "loop to loop." Use short leaders on sink tip lines, no more than 2-3 ft. and use longer leaders, 6-9 ft. on floating lines. To attach the fly to the wire tippet use a Figure 8 knot.
During the spring one should locate areas that are holding pike and fish those areas thoroughly. Fish the deeper water with sink tip lines and streamers. Cast the fly, let it sink and strip the fly back. Vary the retrieve; be willing to experiment to find the speed that will catch fish.
Pike flies are attractors. They must be large, durable and the fish must be able to see the fly. The more visible the fly the better. White, black, yellow, orange and chartreuse are good colors. Streamers like Deceivers, Bunny Bugs, bright colored Tarpon flies, Bunny Leeches and Whistlers all work well. Pike flies do not have to be detailed but they must be large, 6-8".
Fish shallow weedy backwater bays with floating lines and poppers. Poppers imitate prey; frogs, mice, or wounded baitfish and they require a different retrieve than streamers. Cast the popper into the shallows and stop, let it sit for 10-15 seconds, then begin a popping, jerking style of retrieve, typical of bass bugs.
Northern pike have extremely sharp teeth and can inflict a nasty wound. One should always use jaw spreaders and a "hook out" or long nose pliers to help remove the hook. Pike can be landed by hand and one technique for smaller fish is to grab the fish tightly behind the head and over the gill covers. Larger fish can be tailed and then lifted under the throat to get the fish out of water
Northern pike, torpedoes with teeth, are great fly rod fish. The opportunity to catch a trophy pike in a remote Canadian lake is available to the inquiring angler.
Greg Mentzer is a licensed outfitter/guide operating Montana River Guides in Craig, Montana. He has been guiding fly fishermen for trout on the Missouri River since 1985.
All photos by Greg Mentzer.
Copyright © Gregory G. Mentzer, December, 1999. All rights reserved.
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