Article that summarises Hans's experience with pike fly-fishing.
Catching pike on a fly is something very special. In some countries, it's extremely popular, while in others, there is hardly any interest. I am sure that it is also a matter of the availability of local fish species in certain countries. Fly fishing in Holland is a bit different then in most of the surrounding countries. We frequently fish for bream, perch, pike, roach and rudd by fly when we want to practice our great sport. We do have some excellent fishing for stocked trout in small private ponds, or in the famous large salt water reservoirs, but with no spectacular wild trout or grayling in our rivers, we have to travel abroad to fish for these more desirable species.
I like fly fishing for pike in the Dutch "polders," but if you really want superb pike fishing, you have to go to Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland or Canada. There are many other countries that can offer you some good pike fishing, but usually fly fishers don't travel abroad solely for pike fishing.
In Holland many people start their fishing for pike in late autumn, or even in the winter. Every year, from the beginning of November until late winter, I would receive several letters from friends who described their forays for pike as soon as the trout season was finished. Several of these individuals are fly fishing fanatics, but I was dumbfounded to find that they instead used bait fish, spoons and plugs to catch their pike! Personally, I think that catching pike on a fly is a much more spectacular and beautiful method than using a spinning rod, and not really any more difficult.
Pike fishing can be a fantastic sport, and fly fishing for pike is a great alternative when the trout fishing has been closed. Pike are very strong fish, sometimes making spectacular jumps out of the water when hooked. They often take the fly with unbelievable speed and violence.
During autumn when the weather starts to change, the water clears up when the weeds have died back and the algae has disappeared. This makes the fall and winter the most popular seasons for pike fishing in Central Europe. With the weed beds gone and fewer places for the pike to hide, the master of camouflage is much easier to see. In the arctic regions, the situation is much different. There the water is crystal clear all year round, and summertime is usually the prime time to find large pike in the warmer shallow waters. While lying in wait in their secret lairs, they can be easily reached with a fly line. Early springtime can offer some awesome pike fishing as well, but unfortunately too few people take advantage of the pike's early spawning season.
Fly fishing for pike is a rather new sport, even here in Holland. It started in the early sixties, and in the beginning we used small trout streamers like the Mickey Finn, Grey Ghost, Missionary and Chief Needabey. Since then, however, our techniques and methods have changed dramatically. With this change, there has also been a considerable alteration in the fly patterns we use. I strongly believe that the experiences of several Dutch anglers while fishing for pike abroad have had a huge influence on the development of these patterns. Ad Swier, who does a lot of pike fishing all over Europe, has enormously increased the popularity of pike fishing with flies.
Colors, sizes and hooks
Red, yellow, orange, pink and white are still the most popular colors in our pike flies. Colorwise, there is not much difference in today's patterns and those that we formerly used. What has changed radically is the size of flies or lures we use for pike fishing today. Many of the patterns used nowadays are 15-20 cm (7.8") in length or even larger. Large single hook tube flies have been used with considerable success as well. In recent years, very large tandem streamers have also become more and more popular. You may be amused to learn that because of all the feathers, hairs and synthetics used in these huge pike flies, we often refer our Dutch pike streamers as "half chickens." We never use treble or double hooks, since nearly every fish we catch is released. We also use either barbless hooks, or hooks that have their barbs flattened. The new barbless pike hook, specially designed by Ad Swier, and manufactured by Partridge, is surely one of the best hooks available on the market today.
Since we started using much bigger flies, the most notable result has been the very large size of the pike we are catching. The record pike caught by fly in Holland is almost 10 kg (22 lbs.), and my own best ever, caught in the River Guden A in Denmark, weighed over 10 kg. In the last few years, I have fished for the Great Northern Pike in the Yukon. They are the biggest and most powerful pike for which I have ever fished. In 30 years of fly-fishing, I broke my first rod while fishing for pike in Canada. This happened when I was playing a large Northern, which was then attacked by one that was even larger! My rod wasn't able to handle the force of that enormous attacking power.
Casting "Half Chickens"
Casting these enormous streamers is not at all easy, and to do so, you have to use heavy rods, rated for 7, 8, 9 or even 10 weight lines. It is a pity that some of the sport in playing the fish is lost with these stiff one rods, but with such large flies, there is really no alternative. Casting speed must also be slowed down to allow the fly and leader to extend properly. A word of WARNING: casting these "half chickens" can be rather dangerous, especially for beginners. Eye protection and a good thick hat must be considered essential safety equipment. I also would suggest never fishing alone when you begin this kind of fishing, and always use barbless hooks!
Rods for pike
For the last 10 years, I have always used 9 or 9-1/2 ft. rods for 7 or 8 weight geared up with sink tip lines. Many people, however, also use floating or full sinking lines. I don't like to use a 10 weight rod for pike fishing, but when I use a floating line, I find it necessary. The reason that I started to use sinking tip lines in the first place is because I could use a much lighter rod. It's not easy to find the perfect rod for pike fishing, but by using a powerful 7 weight rod, the fishing is much more exciting and enjoyable. Today, I use the new Helix (HE 967S-4) from Thomas and Thomas because it's extremely light, and powerful enough to perfectly handle my big flies. It is one of the nicest rods I know of for sinking tip lines, and when you use Cortland QD 225 grain line, you can cast these much larger flies with little effort.
Sinking tip lines
Because I use mostly sinking tip lines for pike fishing, I designed the big flies so they sink very slowly. I personally prefer a pike fly that floats, and this is the second important reason for me to use sinking lines. A "floating" fly in combination with a sinking or sinking tip line will give you an incredible action. With strong pulls, it is possible to induce a very effective diving action in the fly. In still water, the best method is to strip the line back rather quickly, but allow a pause between your pulls to achieve those diving actions. In shallow water, I always retrieve the line much more quickly. This does not create a problem since, in warmer water, the fish are more eager to strike the bait.
Today our pike patterns are constructed mostly out of very mobile materials, such as marabou, spectraflash, crystal hair, long soft hairs, soft synthetic fibers and very long saddle feathers. With these materials, the action of the fly seems to be much more attractive to the fish than with the less mobile materials which were formerly used. The best material I have found to date are synthetics mixed with long fibers of polar bear hair, which, unfortunately, is illegal in most countries.
Wire and barbless hooks
For pike fishing, a monofilament leader is not a very good choice, as the teeth of the pike will easily cut it. I would advise everyone to use a wire between the fly and leader. Personally I use a very clever wire leader system that was developed by another Dutchman, and distributed by Tackle Trends. I also prefer to use barbless hooks. If the wire or leader breaks, the fish can still get rid of the barbless hook fairly quickly. I know of one situation were the fish shed the hook in just 5 minutes. It also makes releasing the fish much easier.
During the early eighties, I lived and worked in Northern Germany, and visited Denmark very often to fish. Most of the time I fished for trout and grayling, but sometimes, when the weather turned for the worse, I fished for pike as well. I also used floating lines at that time, but I found it very difficult to present my fly at the proper depth in the fast flowing rivers of Denmark. This became my third reason to change to a sink tip line. It was the only way to get the proper action in the fly at the desired depth. After much trial and error, I found a very effective river technique that works perfectly for most Danish rivers. I usually drop the fly in the middle of the river, and then let it drift very close to the bank before fishing it back upstream in short pulls. I play my fly close to deep holes and between weeds and weedbeds. It is very important to fish the fly all the way back towards you, for pike will often seize the fly at the last moment, right under the rod tip.
Photo credit Hans and Ina van Klinken.