Across Colorado, the crisp night air of autumn causes anglers to break out high collared fleeces and streamer boxes full of heavy, articulated offerings that move big trout and even bigger pike. The cooling atmosphere brings aggressive Northern Pike into the shallow water bays of numerous Colorado reservoirs to feed on prevalent baitfish and bulk up for the cold winter months under the ice. Fly anglers looking to flex their saltwater set-ups in preparation for winter trips to southern climes or die-hards who love the tug of a hefty streamer eating water wolf know all too well that Fall is the time to target trophy Northern Pike in Colorado.
With winter’s grip rapidly arriving into the high country, Northern Pike have begun feeding in shallow water on the large numbers of baitfish that congregate in the weeds for cover and protection. The cooling temperatures will begin to change water temps in the shallows more quickly that in the deeper drop offs. The cooling temps will start to cause the aquatic vegetation to die. Brown or off colored weeds are a signal of decay. These weeds will not hold baitfish or the associated pike we are after. However, deeper weed beds require more time for the affects of the cold night air to begin to kill the deeper vegetation and will remain green, holding a higher concentration of baitfish.
The pike will follow the food and will be gathered around the active weed beds in higher numbers. The prevalence of more Northerns around a concentrated food source causes a competition for food. This aggressive competition often results in smaller Northern Pike committing to a fly only to become eaten by a much larger class of pike during the fight. As carnivores pike are often cannibalistic to the point where I have a set of Game Changer flies tied up extra long and in a pike pattern.
The gear you want to have
The gear you want to use for Northern Pike requires strength and power to compete with the ferocity these fish possess. An 8wt fly rod pairs up beautifully with most pike. Even small, hammer-handle sized pike smack a fly with the intensity of a much larger fish. Vail Valley Anglers carries a vast number of rods capable of handling these demanding conditions. A couple of standouts that fall in at different price points would be the Echo EPR and the Hardy Zephrus AWS. Both feel good in the hand and turn over heavy wind resistant flies with ease. The Sage Pike & Muskie rod is designed specifically with this type of fishing in mind and is an excellent rod for targeting Northern Pike throughout Colorado.
Fly lines have followed the trend and are being developed specifically for these toothy critters. Airflo Ridge Bass/Muskie floating fly line possesses a heavy weight forward taper to assist in casting waterlogged flies at both short and long distances. Rio’s Big Nasty fly line is designed the same way to push large flies through the air. Both lines excel when it comes time to fight aggressive powerful fish with a strong core that allows little stretch and more control during the fight. Vail Valley Anglers carries a wide variety of lines and gear designed for Northern Pike fly fishing.
Leaders come pre-rigged to eliminate any questions anglers might have. Those who are apprehensive towards making your own leader system will find the Rio Toothy Critter an excellent choice for streamlining the terminal end of your line. Airflo makes a line of Poly-leaders specifically for Bass/Pike that come in four different sink rates. Airflo leaders allow anglers to fine tune your rigging to present your fly at the appropriate depth for active submerged weed beds in Autumn.
Some pike will shy away from heavy wire necessitating some experimentation with different varieties. My leader wallet is stocked with both pre-rigged leaders and self tied leaders with a selection of wire from 18 pound to 40 pound test. Practice your knots with wire before heading to the water. A helpful carry over from my saltwater fly fishing is the use of crimps on my wire for a streamlined connection between my wire and fly.
Flies for pike fishing require stout hooks and durable materials. When your flies fall apart after one fish, although common, it can be frustrating. However any fish worthy of trashing a fly is a good fish in my book. Umpqua has a super selection of flies designed to target Northern Pike.
The Umpqua Gen-X bunny fly comes in a two pack and for years produced quality fish. The all black model has been the best, but the white and red, chartreuse or an often over looked yellow are all worthy of tying on. Barry’s Pike Fly is another sturdy pattern to use in your favorite color. Umpqua’s Big Fish Deceiver can be the ultimate ticket for success when pike are keyed into baitfish. The silhouette of the Deceiver often produces powerful, slashing strikes. The neutral buoyancy of a Deceiver keeps it in the strike zone for a longer period of time.
Nearby locations for Northern Pike
In the high country around Vail, Colorado we are lucky to have some exceptionally good waters within an easy drive for Northern Pike fly fishing. The majority of good pike waters are within an hour and a half drive of our shop. Driving west, down valley along Interstate 70, anglers will find Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap, located to the north towards Steamboat Springs sits Stagecoach Reservoir. These are three of the best Northern Pike waters in Colorado for fly fishing.
Take exit 90 off Interstate 70 and a little over ten miles to the North is Rifle Gap Reservoir. A skinny, 350 acre reservoir with a middle of the lake island and a large amount of game fish from Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Rainbow and Brown Trout, Yellow Perch and of course our targeted specie, the Northern Pike.
Closer to our shop than Rifle Gap is Harvey Gap Reservoir. Take exit 97 for Silt and roughly 6 miles to the north is the reservoir. Harvey Gap has the same list of game fish available with the addition of Catfish and Crappie. Both of these west slope reservoirs hold healthy populations of Northern Pike.
Heading West from the Vail Valley Anglers fly shop, anglers will want to take exit 157 off Interstate 70 for Wolcott. Continue north along highway 131 for 50 miles and east 6 miles on county road 14 to arrive at Stagecoach Reservoir. A personal favorite, Stagecoach Reservoir holds some of the largest Northern Pike in Colorado.
All three of these pike destinations have a day use fee of $7.00.
Fall is here. Streamer boxes are loaded and wire has been fastened to flies. Whether you are a saltwater fly angler looking to practice flexing your heavy rod in anticipation for an upcoming trip or just one of the freaks around here who revel in the strike from a Northern Pike on our fly now is the time of year to target a water wolf of your own. Vail Valley Anglers has the gear and guides that can put you on your first or your next Northern Pike.
Michael “Sal” Salomone
Vail Valley Anglers
Guide and Content Writer