Springtime temperatures have taken hold of lakes and reservoirs opening the shallow water bays. In response to the warming temperatures, Northern Pike have performed their spawning rituals. Now in Post-spawn mode, the pike have begun to eat and replenish depleted energy reserves. Winter bound pike have waited for months to feel the warming touch of the sun and with it the abundance of shallow water forage. Vail Valley Anglers has all the gear necessary to supply anglers for springtime pike fly fishing.
8-10wt rods are the norm for chasing pike. But the more you know about your fishery the better. Ask yourself, does it require heavy gear or can you get away with lighter weight rods? For years I chose to use a Saltwater 6wt fly rod for 80% of my pike fly fishing in one reservoir. The reservoir was over run with small pike that were all to eager to attack any fly you presented. I knew the majority of fish I would encounter could be sensibly subdued with that gear.
However at the end of the day your shoulder will thank you for throwing the 8wt. Premium rods shine brightly on this point. Sure you could cast a pool cue but at the end of the day the extra money you invest in a quality fly rod will be obvious. You will feel it. Vail Valley Anglers fly shop has a rack full of quality rods designed to enhance your pike fly fishing. The Sage Pike/Musky rod is top shelf for springtime pike fishing. The Echo EPR or TFO Esox are moderately priced rods capable of taming the Colorado Water Wolf.
Reels should hold a large bellied fly line with out piling. Some of the newer reels have spools designed to stack the line in an efficient manner. The Ross Evolution R and Redington Behemoth have spools that take the thought out of line management during the retrieve.
The drag should be capable of slowing the explosive burst pike are known for when the hook hits bone. Ross Reels has a full line up of tippet protecting reels from the classical looking Gunnison to the heavily machined Evolution LTX. Most bite tippets are capable of with standing the initial shock pike produce but a taught mono, fluorocarbon or braided line pulled across sharp pike teeth will sever. Good drag systems protect flies and prevent break offs.
You will loose fish. It happens and only increases the desire and keeps you in the game. I like it when they beat me this feeds the fire making those that reach the net even more sweet.
Wire eliminates bite offs but is highly visible and provides minimal fly action. A secure way to attach a fly to wire is with a simple Haywire twist. The past few years I have experimented heavily with saltwater crimps as an alternative connection achieving great results. The size of the pike you encounter will dictate the length of your wire with 6” being the absolute shortest length.
Hard Mono or Fluorocarbon are both invisible and tough to a point but will be bitten off at sometime. No exceptions, the fly has to be retied after every fish. Both types deliver a stiff fly action unless a loop knot is used.
Braided lines give flies the best action of all bite tippet material. However heavy braid can be hard to find. The pound test you need is in the 60-80lb range. A Uni-to-Uni aka the Double Uni knot is the best for joining a braided bite tippet to your leader.
Store bought leaders provide exceptional performance and eliminate worry should you have mediocre knot tying skills. Commercially tied leaders are limiting to coming in one length but that is a minimal concern. Rio, Scientific Anglers and Umpqua all supply pre-made northern pike leaders that are available through the Vail Valley Anglers.
The Airflo Ridge Bass/Muskie Floating Fly Line has been my go to for chasing anything with teeth in freshwater. Seeing action in Ohio for Gar as well as all across Colorado for Pike the Airflo Ridge Bass/Muskie line has proven to be exceptional. Rio seems to be the company with the most Pike specific fly lines devoting significant attention to this specialized market. Windy afternoons, heavy pike flies and a lazy haul when casting all combine to increase the danger factor associated with fly fishing for pike. Wear your sunglasses as much for eye protection as to enhance visibility.
Flies should be big impressionistic styles that carry a large, gaudy silhouette. Pike see colors but lack the ability for detail. Popular colors would be white, chartreuse/white, yellow/red and blue/black. If pike are being lock jawed try downsizing to a more realistic pattern such as a small minnow or crayfish. Lightly colored flies retrieved at slow speeds along the bottom on a sinking line imitate dying forage fish, an irresistible pike offering. The fly bins at the Vail Valley Anglers fly shop can stock a pike box with ease.
The best hooks for pike flies have long, spear points to penetrate when you strip strike and hold purchase for the entire fight. Some days only a small number of fish commit, good hooks help to capitalize on every opportunity. Most commercially tied flies are on short, thick, heavy-barbed hooks. While these are good up North in Canada they don’t fair well in Colorado.
Hook sharpeners are a must. A simple file from the hardware store will reshape blunt or bent over hook points. Vail Valley Anglers sells pocket sized hook files from Rising, Umpqua and Dr. Slick for convenience. Making a commitment to use it after each catch is the key.
De-barbed flies belong in a debate right behind tippet opinions. A fly without a barb will make handling easier without harm to fish or angler. The deeply eaten fly becomes less of a task to remove saving your fly to fish again. A de-barbed fly also aids if your hook yourself during release or heaven forbid during casting, ha!
When traveling North to Alaska or Canada pinched barbs can be a good idea. Northern waters have high populations of pike that produce multiple hook ups but not in Colorado where one good pike might be all you get a shot at, keep your barbs. Another reason to keep barbs in Colorado, possession and bag limits are lifted in many watersheds eliminating the necessity for Catch-n-Release, creating a harvest fishery. And some waters have a bounty per head on Pike, keep the barbs. Keep your pike buttoned. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife website is the best source for specific pike fishing regulations as they vary extremely between locations. https://cpw.state.co.us
Water warms to favorable conditions quickly in shallow bays with dirt bottoms and abundant bankside vegetation. Southern facing bays warm all morning and become active feeding areas in the afternoon. These bays hold their warmth into the evening but cool quickly with sunset, shade or cloud cover.
When water temperatures increase into the mid to upper 40s Northern Pike follow their primal urges to procreate in shallow water vegetation. Pike spawn in the vegetation found along the banks of lakes and in the vegetation growth located at the mouth of feeder creeks flowing into the main lake.
The 50 degree temperature holds large numbers of pike in the shallows, warming their body temps and feeding on any available food sources. Until the temperatures reach the 55 degree mark long slow strips are the best retrieves for these shallow water predators. Body temperatures are still on the chilly side making pike sluggish in comparison to their normally aggressive pace.
Pike leave the shallows in class size with the biggest leaving for deep water and cooler temps first. When encountering a smaller class of pike in the skinny water alter your approach a little. Focus upon the depth transition areas where the larger pike can seek deep water while opportunistically prowling shallow points and humps for forage.
Once the temperatures eclipse the 60 degree mark a smaller size class of pike rule the shallows. These “hammer handles” are a blast on 6 or 7 weight fly rods. And prove to be less lock jawed than their larger brethren.
As the temperature shoots past the 65 degree mark all pike will seek shelter in deeper water around submerged weed beds. The deep water in the lake is where pike spend the duration of the summer months avoiding the hottest temperatures of the year. Only venturing into shallows to feed and then return to the comfort of deep-water temperatures.
The target areas for deep-water pike would be submerged weed beds with new growth. Green weeds in the Spring hold numerous types of forage that pike feed upon regularly. The fresh green vegetation is the beginning of the food chain in lakes and therefore holds apex predators like northern pike in close proximity.
The new growth need not be thick but green. Most of these weed beds are located in the 10’-12’ range and down to 15’ but temperatures dictate how deep. Deep weed beds become homes to big pike providing multiple varieties of food in a concentrated area.
Windy surface chop that breaks the sunlight is disorienting for baitfish creating ambush opportunities for toothy predators. Low light from clouds and overcast afternoons offer the conditions for a good bite and mimic or extend the magic hours around dawn and dusk. Northern Pike increase activity when experiencing a false sense of darkness or an illusion of light changing.
Northern Pike key in on changes in structure be it rip-rap to sand, Lilly pads to dock supports or a shallow silt bottom near deep water weed beds. Combinations of weeds intermixed or a defined demarcation line between two types is a great area to focus your attention as well.
Experiment with post-spawn pike by trying a variety of depths starting off as shallow as possible working to drop-offs, deep channels and off shore submerged weed beds. Deep weed beds are the key points to target when the big pigs move into the depths.
Spring pike in shallow water are easily visible creating exciting sight fishing opportunities to both cruisers and stationary targets. Pike set up in ambush position by backing into bank-side weeds with tails sticking out of the water. Slowly stripping flies parallel to the outside weed edge creates powerful charges and draws explosive, reactionary strikes. Polarized lenses are a must for this style of sight fishing. Afternoons are often plagued with the “w” (wind) creating enough surface chop to make visibility difficult. Polarized lenses cut through the busy glare and reveal pike under the surface while protecting your eyes too.
Cloudy disruptions in the silt along the bottom are evidence of a startled fish that spooked. Knowing a pike is in the vicinity even one that was pushed off a spot is key. This is still a catchable fish, often more so as they are now actively swimming and moving about an area.
Anglers need to recognize shoreline points as extensions of geographic features protruding into the lake. Systematically fishing an underwater point by allowing more sink time before retrieving covers multiple depths where trophy pike feed. Solitary anglers in kick boats or float tubes can quietly pick apart an area without alerting every fish on the point to your presence.
Slow trolling in a raft, one-man pontoon or belly boat at kicking speed gives a large fly lifelike qualities and entice finicky post spawn Northerns into eating. Hold onto your rod or better yet tie it to your vessel. Don’t want to loose a quality pike outfit sinking it into the depths or being stolen by a big one.
Pay attention during the fight and retrieve. Use your finger for a level wind to prevent stacking hazards from heavy fly lines. Specialty fly lines for pike have long fat bellies to turn over and carry big flies during casting, however they can pile up and prevent retrieval.
Fish your retrieve all the way back to your rod tip. Pulling the leader into the guides on your rod and using the rod to complete a retrieve is an effective technique for the pike that just keeps following your fly. Often a figure 8 movement with the rod tip causes explosive boat side strikes.
Top water is a technique for un-pressured angling waters or the Canadian Provinces. A high population count makes fish compete for food and increases the effectiveness of top water flies. Low light or night fishing stacks the odds in your favor for achieving success with top water here in Colorado.
Don’t let these factors intimidate you. Northern Pike fly fishing occupies a special niche at Vail Valley Anglers where numerous guides and managers are more than willing to assist in your pike quest. Approach one of the knowledgeable employees working in the VVA fly shop for assistance and you will be on your way to success.
Vail Valley Anglers
Guide and Content Writer