Pro Tips: Top Techniques for Fly-Fishing for Pike

Written by: Stu Thompson


Take some lessons from a Canadian pike fanatic.

photo courtesy Stu Thompson

Whether they’re called snakes, hammer handles, gators, or any other name, pike can be found across the northern U.S. and Canada. Here are some of the techniques I use to take pike in lakes. This will be broken down into the three different types of fly line, the flies used for each, plus the types of leaders and tackle required.

Dry Lines:

When fishing with a floating line, remember that you will be fishing quite shallow, usually no more than four feet deep. At such depths, you will usually be fishing weed beds, so your flies should be weedless. The edge of the weed bed is the first place to start fishing. The choice of fly here would be a bass bug or a streamer. Cast the fly a foot into the weeds, and then retrieve out from the weed bed. Once the fly is in open water, be ready for an explosive strike.

Other spots to fish are pockets, which are the openings in the rear of the weed bed. The flies I enjoy using most in this situation are Dahlberg Divers and Weedman’s Sliders. The number of pops you give the the bug depends on the size of the pocket. You will find that if pike are nearby, they will hit the bug within four pops. If you don’t get any response after 3 or 4 casts to a pocket, move to the next one. When pocket-hopping like this, keep mobile and you will end up with more fish.

The last location is my favorite place to fish, and that is where there’s an indentation or “bay” in the weeds. Cast 10 to 20 feet into the weeds and retrieve very slowly, until the fly hits open water. Then make four to five fast strips, and hang on tight. The pike will often go crazy trying to kill the fly. I fish the full length of the bay and have found this area the most productive. The fly patterns that work well for this type of fishing are Dahlberg Divers (color of choice), Weedman’s Sliders (White and chartreuse), and a T.G.T. Streamer.

Sinking-Tip Lines:

These lines are great for fishing weed beds and flats that meet an adjoining drop-off. Fishing these locations can be very productive if you follow one simple rule: cast toward deeper water and retrieve your fly back to the shallow flat or weed bed. You will find that most of the strikes will occur when the fly is making its way up the drop off. Streamers work best. A Black-Nose Dace is a popular choice, but don’t forget about some others, such as Hi-Landers (in pearl, dace and red, orange, and yellow, and the I’s Streamer.


Stu shows off a fine Canadian pike.

photo courtesy Stu Thompson

There is one more little secret I would like to pass on to you: using a popper on a sinking-tip line. You may be a non-believer now, but give it a try. When retrieving the popper, give three quick strips of the line. The first strip will create the pop and gurgle desired, and the last two strips will make the bug react like a wounded baitfish. When you pull the concave face of the popper under the water, the resulting pressure will move the bug from side to side. Once you stop the retrieve, the bass bug will swim toward the surface, again acting like a wounded baitfish. I have found that pike simple cannot resist this type of action in a fly, sometimes jumping three feet out of the water just to get at your bass bug. This is probably the most effective retrieve I have used in catching Pike.

Sinking Lines:

Since the first ten feet of the water column is covered by the dry and sink tip lines, the only type of sinking line required is a fast-sinking, high-density line, which will allow you to cover from ten to twenty feet of water with no problem. This is perfect for when you want to fish underwater humps, which draw baitfish and subsequently pike like a magnet. To reach this productive area you have to use the “countdown” method to get the fly in the proper position. Let’s say the sink rate of your line is approximately six inches per second. If you want to fish down to ten feet, you have to count to twenty because your line sinks a foot every two seconds. The fly will then be down to the proper depth and the retrieve started.

There are two types of effective retrieves for fishing underwater humps. The basic one is a simple 8-inch strip. But sometimes the fish want a slow retrive, so a hand twist works better. Control the line with your casting hand, and pick the line up with your thumb and index finger, then bring the palm of your hand down across the line, holding the line with your third and baby finger. Twist your hand around to grab the line again, and repeat the process. This is the basic hand-twist retrieve and the most effective when using a wet line.

The best streamers for this type of fishing are the same as above, but with a subtle difference. Pike feed on sight and will target the eye of the baitfish. Therefore, when tying large streamers, tie in or glue on some type of eye. This will increase the number of hits you receive. Another tip for tying large streamers is to tie in a tail of 3 to 4 inches, with the wing as long as the tail. Again if you have observed pike feeding, they will hit the bait fish dead centre. When fishing these streamers, it allows you an immediate hook set, with the hook in the corner of the fish’s mouth.


The Dahlberg Diver is great for weed beds.

photo courtesy orvis.com

Tackle:

Never, ever, ever go out pike fishing under-gunned. There is no place for a 6-weight outfit. At a minimum, use an eight weight rod and a reel with a strong drag. No matter who makes the rod and reel as long as you use a 9- or 10-weight system you will have no problem casting or fighting big fish.

Leaders:

The most important part of a pike fishing system is the leader. There are numerous ways to make pike leaders. You can use the Bimini Twist, buy leaders already made up, or you can make up your own, using steel line for tippet material. I find the Bimini Twist method time consuming, so I rarely use them. There are lots of commercial pike and predator leaders that will do the trick.

The system I prefer is one I designed years ago. I take six feet of 17-pound Trilene XL and use an Albright knot to join 2 feet of Mason Nylostrand wire to the mono. I then tie a double surgeon’s loop in the mono end, so I have a loop-to-loop connection. After my leader is secured to the fly line, I use a figure eight knot to attach my fly. I don’t have to worry about crimp sleeves or bringing a lighter to do a twist melt. The figure eight knot only takes a couple of seconds to tie, and you are off fishing in no time.

Other Tools:

Always keep in mind that Pike have razor sharp Teeth. So here is a list of tools I take along.

1. 10-inch forceps

2. Long needle-nose pliers

3. Landing net (with a soft cotton bag)

4. Musky cradle (if I’m fishing with someone else)

5. Lots of band aids.

Have fun and I hope these tips will help you.

Stu Thompson, inventor of the DDH Leech, lives in Manitoba, Canada, where he is a freelance writer, fly casting instructor, and avid angler. Check out his new website, where you can see all the crazy species he specializes in.

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4 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Top Techniques for Fly-Fishing for Pike

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