xNorthern Pike are predators that viciously go for the kill and have the utmost stealth. They are known to attack birds, small mammals, and even similar-sized fish. Northern pike can get massive and the largest one caught on-record weighed fifty-five pounds! That ferocity on the end of your line is a feeling like no other, and they fight like crazy, sometimes jumping completely out of the water. Catching pike on the fly is a truly insane and unforgettable experience that one can accomplish throughout the year.
The best seasons for pike are Autumn and Spring because they are hungry and ready to stock up on food. In the fall, they are key on larger flies because winter is nearing and food sources are harder to come by. More often than not, the bigger the fly, the more likely a larger fish is going to take a swipe.
Depending on your location, Winter and Summer can also be viable for pike, it just takes a little more patience. If you live somewhere chilly, where most pike locations freeze up during the winter, spend time getting ready by tying flies and stocking up on steel leaders.
Location is Key
During any season, it is important to be on the water at the right time and in the right place. Pike enjoy cool water so they tend to be active early in the morning or later at night. Hot summer days will cause them to head deeper into lakes or rivers in search of colder water. They are also fans of slow-moving water and structures, like weed beds and logs. A good technique for flies near/on weed beds is to use a figure-eight pattern. Slowly strip a fly in the pattern to entice pike hiding below to check it out, try to steer clear of the actual weeds or you might end up catching one and spook your target fish!
Pike are hunters that hideout until they find prey, slithering out from shelter only to attack. Impressively, pike can swim to speeds of up to thirty miles per hour! For this reason, it is often important to remain calm and quiet when fly fishing for them, as they can spook easily.
Poppers, Flies, and Sharp Teeth, Oh My!
Catching any fish on topwater makes me ecstatic, but catching pike is a whole new level of awesome. Tying your own poppers is fairly simple and I suggest using Ahrex predator size 6/0 hooks, double-barrel heads, colorful zonker strips, bucktail, and flashabou. They’ll stalk your popper, waiting for the perfect moment to attack… and once they do, it’s go time.
Once you see a pike hovering a couple of feet behind, continue popping and set the hook as soon as it chomps down. Don’t be discouraged if at first, the hook set is unsuccessful. Often times, if you recast the popper a few feet in front of the pike, it will attack again. Some pike become so ferocious and aggressive that they will try to swallow your fly whole. In addition to poppers, pike are also fond of mice, large streamers, and articulated streamers.
It is important to be careful when handling pike, because of their multiple rows of sharp teeth. A safe way to hold a pike is to grab the outer part of their gill plate and make sure your fingers stay away from their teeth. They are known to cut through line like butter. It is highly recommended to use steel leaders, pliers, and sometimes jaw openers. Pike chomp down with the intent to kill and do not like giving up, but that’s part of what makes them so fun to catch!
If you are interested in learning more about northern pike check out this pamphlet from Minnesota DNR: https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/mcvmagazine/young_naturalists/young-naturalists-article/pike_life/pike_life.pdf
Article and photos from Tia Kelliher, a fly fishing yoga teacher from Alaska. Check out her Instagram @tia.kelliher for fun Alaskan content!