The first really warm rays of the sun lightly touch the cold ground of April and it seems as if the first days of summer are on the way. In my mind, images of birch trees in leaf and rising trout are always present, and I can smell the fresh grass, wet with dew.
Despite the spring feelings of April, summer is still a ways away. But April is far from a bad month for fly-fishing. For many it means a long awaited fishing for sea running trout or a first for trying the rainbow stocked lake. For me it means that my favorite way of fishing is at its peak - the spring fishing for pike!
The pike, Esox lucius, is one of Swedens most common freshwater fish and it exists in almost all European countries. In Sweden it lives in almost all lakes and in the brackish water along the east coast. For centuries, the pike has been described as the "wolf in the water," a predator killing for pleasure. In 15th century England there were stories about pike devouring people - and even eating whole horses. Today we know better, but the pike is still one of our hungriest fish and its not uncommon that they take ducklings, frogs and mice. Its the pikes way of hunting and its interest in charging flies that are presented in the surface water makes it one of the most spectacular species for the fly-fisher.
During early spring, usually from mid February to mid May, the pike spawns. The time of spawning varies from lake to lake, and the temperature in the water is an important factor. Spawning takes place in shallow, preferably flooded bays with rich vegetation where the pike females attach their eggs on reeds or grass at the same times as the male sprays his milt on them to complete the conception. The water doesnt have to be deeper than 20-40 centimeters for a 10-kilo pike-female to spawn. In fact, they usually prefer shallow waters because its several degrees warmer than further out in the lake - and thus warm water is the key to finding spawning pikes.
Fly fishing for pike at this time of the year should always be performed in the bays with the warmest water temperature. A simple rule is to fish where the wind is blowing the warmer surface water towards the bay. The fact that the pike stays in the shallow and vegetation rich bays will cause problems for the fly fisher when the flies hit the bottom instead of attracting the pike to attack. The solution is to use a so called Mega Diver, a popper-like fly, with a large head, made of deer hair trimmed flat on the underside, making a cone-shaped top as opposed to the popper flys heavy and wind resistant head of balsa wood. A Mega Diver works just like a traditional popper. It floats as long as you dont pull, but when you reel the line, it will dive under the water with a popping sound when the air bubbles between the deer hair fibers are released and float to the water surface. This sound is one of the reasons the pike is attracted to the fly. In connection to this article is a description of how to tie a Mega Diver and a description of the fishing technique. Because the fly is rather large, about 25-35 centimeters, strong equipment is required. Youll especially notice its advantages during days with hard wind. I have chosen a 4 part rod in class 7, which is strong enough, and to that a simple and cheap fly fishing reel holding the line and one hundred meters of backing.
The line is a very important part of pike fishing. At the market there are many ready-made fly-fishing lines. Among them some are better equipped to handle large flies and casting in the wind than the traditional ones. In my experience, its the homemade shooting head line that works best. The line is made by a thick belly from a DT-line, preferably one class better than the rod makers recommendation, and cut to 9-11 meters depending on which rod will be used. For the bellys thicker part, a thin, floating running line is attached, preferably in a noticeable color. This homemade line is best when using large flies in strong wind. Long casts are not unusual when fishing for pike, where the cast length at an average is about 20 meters in order to cover as much water as possible. During spring fishing in the shallow bays you should only use floating lines.
Wire leader with a ring.
The next step in the equipment is the leader that will be seriously mistreated by the pikes razor-sharp teeth. The leader is the most important link between you and a caught pike. If something goes wrong, its usually the fault of the leader. During the years Ive been fishing for pike, I have critically used many different variations of leaders at my fishing waters, from just a thick piece of nylon (0.50-0.60 mm) to the leader that bait casters use.
The best leader Ive used so far - and that I still use today - is developed by a good friend and fishing companion, Per-Ola Nilo. About to go on a fishing trip to the large pikes of Åland he solved the leader problem in a smart way. He attached a 10-15 cm long thin wire to a regular, tapered nylon leader with a total length of 1.5-2 meters. To this protection leader he attached a small metal ring of the same type used for key rings, but of much smaller diameter. The flys eye is then attached to the ring and a fast, simple and safe leader is ready for use. Its of course important to use as small and strong ring as possible between the protection leader and the fly because a weak ring may open up and the fly maybe lost.
Fishing in Neoprene hip boots
When fishing for pike in shallow spawning bays, you wont need a boat or a belly boat.. Instead you have to use hip boots, and in the cold waters of spring, neoprene is the best material. Walking around in the vegetation rich bays will also bring an extra dimension and kick to the pike fly-fishing - you will feel like youre in a much more exotic place
You will need sturdy pliers or forceps to be able to press the barbs on the hook together when youre getting the fly out of the pikes mouth. This shouldnt be done with your bare hands considering the razor sharp teeth of the pike. For really large pike it may be easier to use a mouth opener if you wish to throw the fish back.
I never use a landing net or a gaff, which I feel just complicates the catching. Instead I take a good hold right behind the gills. This also works for really large pikes and makes them calmer while I release the hook.
Fishing the way I do, wading in shallow bays and fishing with a popper-like fly on the surface, rewards me with more and larger fish than for example spinning with a wobbler or the common and somewhat boring fly-fishing with a sinking line. The technique of fishing in shallow waters in spring offers a unique opportunity for sight fishing, a technique that is common when fishing for trout and rainbow trout in the crystal clear streams of New Zealand and USA. When sight fishing, youll see the fish youre about to cast to - an exciting method. Instead of wasting time at fishing blindly, you will aim every cast at a pike that you have located - and at this time of the year the pike is guaranteed to take the fly!
The spawning pikes usually reveal their territories, which they guard with their lives at stake. They swim high up in the water and will splash their tails when they speed up to attack an intruding rival - and let me tell you, the first time you see two really large pike fight at close sight, youll almost get week in your knees. The shallow water is the reason you can spot the large pike. Sometimes they are simply taller from their belly to their backs than the water is deep! To suddenly spot a 5-6 kilo pike, which is far from unusual during the spawning season, is a great kick. This is what makes fly-fishing for spring pikes so unique and wonderful!
You dont fish carefully with these large flies and the rather heavy equipment. No, fly-fishing for spring pike is a one hundred percent adrenaline rush. You will understand this already the first time you see a large pike follow the fly a few meters just below the surface, to finally accelerate and in a cascade of water hit the fly. I can guarantee that youve never seen anything cooler - and the best thing is that every strike is like this!
Before a pike catches a fly in the surface it prefers to follow it awhile before it strikes, a behavior most noticeable during spawning season. It probably sees the fly as an intruder rather than something edible and instead of eating the fly it tries to chase it away. Now its important to have a fly that irritates the following pike even after it thinks it chased the intruder far enough away from its territory. The Mega Diver seems to have an unsurpassed way to make the pike attack the fly instead of just returning to its territory.
When the fly is reeled in and the pike starts to swim after it, you have to remain cool and keep reeling at the same speed. A fly that remains still at the surface too long will stop interesting the pike. The fish sometimes follows the fly 5-6 meters until it decides to take it. However, usually it will attack after only 2-3 meters. In the beginning the pike quietly follows 50-100 centimeters behind when you reel the fly in, with parts of the back and tail fin above the water. Without warning it accelerates to attack. At this stage the fish makes a big splash and the inexperienced fly fisher will usually retort, ending up with nothing but an empty hook. You need to hold back until the pike has caught the fly and if your nerves have lasted that long, your pulse will be up around 200!
Fish without an adipose fin
Here in cold Scandinavia we often envy fly fishers in other countries, for example in USA, where fish like bonefish, tarpon, permit, and bass offers exiting fishing on the side of the more traditional fly fishing for trout, rainbow, salmon, and a number of other species with adipose fins. This jealousy is either our lack of fantasy or lack of knowledge of the fish species we have in our own Nordic countries because we do have a number of other fish that are willing to be tempted by a fly. In our fresh waters there are pikeperches, bream, perch and, my own favorite, the pike, as examples of interesting fly taking fish. Saltwater offers additional species mullet, codfish, different flatfish and naturally the spunky mackerel - for very exciting fly fishing from boat during the summer.
As a fly fisher its important to expand ones views and accumulate impressions from many different types of fishing and fish to be able to develop your own fly fishing. I can promise that the spring fishing for pike in the shallow spawning bays is the kind of fishing that is guaranteed to find a place in the calendar of any fisherman that ever tries this action-loaded flats fishing!
Pike leader with a wire end
As protection against the needle sharp teeth of the pike, youll need a leader end made of thin steel-wire (9 kg).
1. Cut steel-wire, about 15 cm long. Immediately heat the ends with a cigarette lighter and press the wires together with wet fingers. This prevents the wire to fringe.
2. Fold about 2 cm at each end of the wire back to make a loop. Use a strong thread to tie around the wire and secure with varnish or glue, preferably epoxy.
3. Put a small "key ring", of the type used on a spoon bait, in one of the loops. The other loop is attached to the nylon leader with a knot.
The main leader is made of nylon and its length and dimensions can be seen in the figure below. Use a blood knot. The total length is 160 cm.
Text: Niclas Andersson ©