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Fly-fishing for Pike

Contrary to widespread belief among anglers, pike are usually quite eager to grab an artificial fly. Provided the fly is big enough to catch the eye of a fish perfectly able to swallow a quarry one third of its own weight. Fishing for pike with a fly rod is a relatively new phenomenon in Sweden, but records show that it was practiced in the British Isles already in the 18th century. A “fly” could consist of the tip of a calf’s tail tied to a hook of suitable size. Pike are ferocious predators, always ready to strike out for a silvery roach, a downy duckling – or a bunch of calf’s hair. Since pike are influenced by simple sensory impressions, there is no need for our flies to be imitations of something pike usually eat. Not for a moment do pike ponder on the authenticity of the quarry – they react! 




In old folklore, pike were with their grim exterior often regarded as a symbol of evil, and were sometimes referred to as “the Devil’s Fish” A water wolf, which deep down in the murky waters of a lake could grow into monster proportions and occasionally attack and even drown some unfortunate man or woman. Still, evil could be turned into good. Carrying bones from a pike next to one’s body was considered as a protection against witchcraft, pestilence and other life-threatening ailments. Well, pike have in all times fascinated man and given birth to a host of more or less credible stories.



A good example is the so called “Emperor’s Pike”. According to an old document, it was caught in 1497 in a lake near Mannheim, Germany. Its weight was 148 kilos and length around 565 cm. An engraved ring found on the pike’s gill cover, told that Emperor Fredrik II had put the fish in the lake in the year 1230 - that is 267 years earlier. An exhibition showing the pike’s skeleton was later set up in Mannheim Cathedral, where visitors could study the remnants of the old pike.



Our Scandinavian “gädda”, correctly named Northern Pike, are found in an enormous area, covering large parts of three continents. The explanation is their extraordinary ability to adjust to most types of waters and climates. In 1938, for example, pike were put out in Lake Tana in Abyssinia, North Africa, with good results. The English word pike alludes to the spear-like form of the fish. Our Swedish name has ancient Germanic origin where the word pike or point was “gadd” which became Gädda.



The life cycle of a pike begins at the spawning, which usually coincides with ice-out. First to arrive to the spawning grounds are the male fish, and shortly afterwards, roe swollen females arrive after having waited for a more favorable temperature. A pike of two kilos may contain in the excess of 50,000 eggs, of which only a few will survive. The loss from egg to full-grown fish estimates at a staggering 99.995 %.


For you who would like to try your hand at fly-fishing for pike, spring is the ideal time to start. At no other time of the year will you find so many pike assembled within a limited area, nor pike so greedy and ready to grab a fly. It is all about spawning, of course, and interesting fishing spots are the shallow inlets and flooded shores. The best fishing usually occurs when the spawning is more or less over, and pike are lying in shallow water or near the outer margins of the inlet.



Living in Sweden, there is always a pike-water in your vicinity. Pike seem to thrive in almost any type of habitation. You will find them in the big clear-water lakes but also in reed-infested inlets, overgrown streams and dark, mysterious woodland tarns. Here are a few pointers on equipment. But before you pay good money for a new rod, a new fly line etc., stop and consider. In combination with lighter pike flies your old trout rod and a WF – line might very well do.



Your rod should be able to carry an 8-9 weight line and be around 8, 5-9, 5 ft. I personally like to use a 10 ft rod to add height to my cast, especially when fishing from a belly boat. Extended butt section is unimportant, but can be of use at times. The reel ? Well, everyone has his own favorite, and mine is clearly somewhat old fashioned. A better alternative is probably a reel with a wider rim. Pike seldom make long runs, so a lot of backing is not necessary.



The leader is a special problem. The jaws of a pike are armed with an imposing set of teeth. The big teeth in the lower jaw penetrates the victim and presses it against the numerous small teeth of the palate. I recommend the use of a wire shock-leader in order to avoid the risk of getting it torn off. My leader is simple but functional and can be varied in length according to desire. A snap link makes changing flies easy. Price: 60 SEK




A few other useful items are worth mentioning. A spring-loaded jaw-opener to hold the pike’s mouth open when the hook is removed, a forceps to lift out the hook and a collapsible gaff. Finally, if you like your pike on a plate, served with horseradish and melted butter, a hefty “priest” will come in handy.



“Finnskogsriket”, the sparsely populated wilderness between the provinces of Dalarna, Hälsingland and Gästrikland, is one of my favorite fly-fishing haunts. In this vast woodland, there are a wide variety of waters, from large clear-water lakes to small tarns surrounded by marshland and forests. Like most other species of fish, pike are marked by their habitat. The clear-water pike have a pattern in light pastel shades, the tarn-pike are usually much darker, tinged with bronze along the sides and with eyes the color of amber.



Fishing a particular lake for a longer period, you gradually learn where pike are likely to lie. It might be the edge of a shoal, a clump of water lilies or a v-shaped indention in a belt of reeds. Places that for one reason or other always holds a pike or two. Usually it has to do with camouflage. The hunting technique of a pike builds on short and swift lunges out of hiding-places. A large pulsating streamer is often the best choice. Rule of the thumb is a light streamer in clear water and a more richly colored one in darker environments.


After having written an article on flies for pike fishing a few years ago, I received letters and telephone calls from concerned readers. Too heavy, was the verdict, and much too hard to cast. Somewhat stunned by the critique I sat down to design a more manageable fly. My objective as follows: Easy to cast, show a good volume in the water, not become tangled, be durable and, of course, have a shape and coloration attractive to the fish.



This is the result. A classic streamer model, tied with fox-hair, buck-tail, hackle feathers, Christmas-tinsel (!!), EZ tube and lots of Superglue. Concerning hook I have narrowed my choice down to two, AD Swier Pike Fly (barb-less) size 4/0 and Gamakatzu (bait-hook) size 5/0. Both hooks are somewhat heavy, but dressed in furs and feathers they give the fly a smooth gliding quality, which looks very attractive.



Another type of fly, sparsely dressed, lively and easy to cast, has got eyes, a detail that probably has some importance. It is believed that an attacking pike uses the eye of the quarry as a target. Artificial eyes, either made of glass, plastic or as stickers are obtainable at most hobby- or sport fishing stores. Undeniably, they give the fly a certain personality.



Dahlberg’s Diver is a cross between a wet fly and a dry fly. Slowly retrieved the fly floats like a cork, but jerked, the collar causes the fly to dive. As a whole, the fly is a bit fragile, and it is important to secure each new bunch of deer-hair with a drop of Superglue. Who was/is Dahlberg, by the way? His name has an obvious Scandinavian ring to it, and if you know more about him than I do, please let me know.



When pike is “on the fin” there seems to be no end to its enthusiasm. I hooked this pike on a big streamer. Shortly before, it had evidently sunk its teeth into a younger brother. Even though its mouth was full, it had in some way or other managed to find room for my streamer as well. Talk about gluttony!



A most enjoyable way to fish for pike is from a belly-boat, demonstrated here by my fishing-buddy, Peter. To enter a belly-boat and in a single moment be transformed from a clumsy, overdressed terrestrial to a weightless, hovering amphibian is quite an experience. You move around, practically without making a sound, and can get almost on top of the pike without raising alarm.



The popper is a type of fly, or lure, we have inherited from the US. The material is balsa wood, cork, deer-hair or various synthetics. It is essentially a top-water fly, and works best in shallow water or near clumps of reeds.



The charge is violent and brutal, and pike often make spectacular leaps with jaws wide open and vigorously shaking its head. An aerobic, while not learned, is still the best way to get rid of an irritating hook.



Not regarding the psychedelic coloration, there are two types of poppers. One has a concave front and, when jerked, makes a rather loud bubbling noise, while the other has a straight, beveled or cone-shaped front and, handled carefully, makes an almost soundless track on the surface.



This is a popper, shaped out of balsa wood. The hook, glued into a slit at the bottom of the body, is called “kink shank”. Its particular form keeps it firmly fixed in the wood. An ordinary hook works just as well, if you first wind the hook shank with thread to give the glue a better grip. Buck-tail and hackle feathers give the popper life and volume.



If you find it awkward to cast heavier flies made of wood or cork, this popper is for you. The head of the popper is made of a broad strip of thick foam, pierced by the hook and folded back. The doll’s eyes are attached using compound glue.



Autumn is my best season, a period of fulfillment and rest. Woodland roads take me to isolated tarns, where I seldom fish during summer. The air is fresh and filled with delightful fragrances, the mosquitoes are too lethargic to sting and the deciduous trees are flaming pillars of red and yellow. And the silence, the blessed silence!



Here is one of my favorite spots. Far from main roads, a small tarn surrounded by marshland and mixed forest. This is where the first Finnish settlers once roamed the woods shoes made out of birch-bark. To survive, they set traps for grouse, built simple rafts and laid nets. Sitting with my back against a rough birch trunk more than 400 years later, I can almost feel their presence and hear their steps whispering among the lingonberry-twigs.



Always a good choice, the deer-hair mouse works particularly well on this tarn. I made my first one, mostly for fun, to put on a cheese-tray or to give to friends. Soon I discovered that it made excellent bait for pike. To watch the little mouse negotiate the surface in tiny “strokes” is evidently irresistible to a hungry pike. Its attack is usually explosive. 



In late autumn, pike prefer the shallows, where the water is cooler. If you move cautiously, you do not have to make long casts. Pike are in prime condition at this time of the year and catching them sometimes gets quite dramatic, since the space between grass tufts and reed banks is limited. Many consider that pike has the very best flavor this time of year.



Tarn-pike rarely reach trophy size. A decent fish weighs 1.5 kilos, and “big” is a pike of 4 kilos. There are exceptions of course, and somewhere in the dark depths of the lake an ancient pike lurks, spike-studded jaws and cruelly gleaming eyes. That is what our forefathers thought – and, well, that is what we still think.



Eventually everything has an end. There have certainly been a few cold nights, but this was not what I expected. Fly rod in hand I take a couple of steps out onto the ice, it does not yield at all. A trifle disappointed I turn back to the shore, pick up a handful of dry sticks and make a little fire to warm my coffee.


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