When Things Don’t Go Pike

By Matthew Mallory

For many years this was my daily view, dockside sunrises in southern Ontario cottage country. Photo: Matthew Mallory

It was supposed to be easy, I grew up on this piece of water, cut my angling teeth chasing pike there. As the top predator in the lake, they mow down pretty much anything that resembles food and sometimes things that don’t. I’ve caught thousands of them from this pocket of water.

I was stoked, I’d spent the season getting serious about fly fishing, I was super fired up for my annual trip east to visit the family and hang at our cottage. With almost three weeks off, the plan was to spend most of it on the water. The previous year I’d only had 10 days back there and managed to land a few big bass and some decent pike on gear. Landing the large bull trout on a fly rod had me salivating at the thought of tying into a northern, even if it was a small hammer handle I was ready for some slime time.

For many years this was my daily view, dockside sunrises in southern Ontario cottage country. Photo: Matthew Mallory

My girlfriend had arrived in Toronto several days earlier: with my brother and his partner they picked me up at Pearson airport which we escaped straight to the cottage to sleep. Early morning coffee with Dad while unpacking the rods and sneaking out in the boat before Rachael was awake set the tone. Right off the bat, like a slap in the face the fishing was hard. Feeling the effects of climate change, Ontario had been in the midst of a crazy hot summer.

It was just too damn hot, my tried and true spots, while producing the odd fish were not working out like last year. The previous August I’d spent eight or nine days on the water and managed to tie into a lot of pike and some pretty decent bass. Paddleboarding around the lake the shallows which are normally teaming with largemouth bass and panfish were strangely barren. Our stealthy paddles were only showing occasional schools of little bluegills and perch.

Incidental catch while stripping long flies for pike. A little largemouth bass keeping up the entertainment level. Even on an 8wt rod there is a lot more finesse involved than horsing them in on gear. Photo: Rachael Brown

Over the months leading up to August, I had stocked up on big streamers, outfitted myself with a couple new rods, the main objective to be ready for Ontario. I wanted to feel the slashing strike, the violent boat side head-shakes and power that would have my rod bent deep. Day after day slinging long casts with big flies my shoulder was aching and I was getting nothing. Now and then I’d cave and search out some bass but most of my time was spent scouring the deep weed edges and troughs trying to sink the hook into a northern’s toothy maw.

A week after arriving we had a change in the weather, a slight cooling that dropped the water temperatures a touch and made it bearable. Finally, I started to get some pike action. They didn’t seem to be hungry but were willing to tentatively slash out at a tantalizing strip of rippling bunny leech. It was simple to tell that the pike were starting to hit, the strike is much more violent than a bass and when an 8-inch fly comes back 4 inches shorter you can figure the rest is tangled in a pike’s teeth. Not to mention the occasional strike that was close to the boat, a slashing streak of green and gold that would always surprise me and get the heart pumping.

An Ontario special, the rock bass, gotta love ‘em but sure do wonder what they are thinking going after a nine-inch fly. Photo: Rachael Brown

For over thirty years the northern pike has been my favorite fish, three weeks of fly fishing and not burying the hooks into one did leave me a little disappointed. Not the sort of disappointment that ruins a trip, but in the months leading up to the trip, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I might not catch a pike. I was not prepared for the reality of spending hours upon hours working drop-offs, weedbeds, and troughs and not sinking hooks. The disappointment of not catching a pike on my fly rod this trip is just a minor setback that has steeled my resolve for next year; hope for a change in the weather, some changes in fly set-up to maximize the short strikers and a raging desire to connect with a nice northern.

Living in trout and salmon obsessed British Columbia I’ve spent my winter scheming about pike.  It might be a year between trips but I am fired up for more of those green and yellow snot rockets.

Article from Matthew Mallory, a writer, and photographer based out of Whistler, British Columbia. His work has covered mainly mountain biking and mountain snowmobiling and now has found a passion for fly fishing. Check him out on the web at  www.mmcreatives.com.

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