In case you missed Part 1 of our Hunt for Fall Monster series, we discussed fly fishing for the mighty Mackinawâ€”also known as the lake trout. Check it out here.
Part 2 of this blog series focuses on fly fishing for the Northern Pike:
Fly Fishing the Northern Pike
In lakes, reservoirs and even some of our river systems, Northern Pike (the Water Wolf) have invaded Colorado. Pike are another non-native, highly predatory, piscivorous fish species that were introduced both as a game fish and as a way to control less desirable species like carp and suckers. This idea, in combination with illegal stocking, has led to widespread and in some cases unwanted population explosions of Northern Pike in Colorado. Some trout fisheries have been decimated as seen with the Yampa River below Steamboat Springs. Larger pike will easily eat fish that measure half of their own body length.
Many fly anglers have recognized the potential with this sharp toothed species. Their populations are booming, they grow to over thirty pounds and they are super aggressive eaters that explode on baitfish patterns. The Water Wolf moniker aptly describes their aggressive, deadly demeanor and they are an excellent species to pursue with a fly rod at certain times of the year.
When and Where can I find them?
Autumn is when the large females, the fish 40 inches and longer and weighing 20 plus pounds, return to shallow bays in lakes and concentrate in slow moving eddies, sloughs and pools in rivers. The drop in water temperature and shorter days prompt a pre-winter feeding binge where anything smaller than themselves is on the menu.
Look for shallow, dark bottoms with weed beds where the water will be warm and smaller fish seek out concealment among the vegetation. Generally speaking, unlike lake trout, pike are ambush predators. They choose to remain still and wait for a hapless victim to swim to close. In an impressive burst of speed they instantly and violently attack.
Fly Fishing Gear Recommendations
Similar gear choices that work for lake trout will be effective for pike. Heavy rods and stout leaders are required. Some anglers wisely choose to use either a wire bite tippet or a length of 68-80 lb mono as insurance against a pike cutting through your leader.
Usually, floating fly lines are all that is needed. Flies often incorporate tough bunny strips that hold up to a pike’s sharp dentures. It is basically impossible to throw a fly too large for giant pike. Bright colors like yellows, oranges and chartreuse should be backed with more natural baitfish colors. Sturdy saltwater hooks help to ensure good hookups.
Do not forget a hefty pair of saltwater pliers to remove hooks and save your hands from being shredded. Trust me on this one. Once your hand is inside a pike’s mouth, the blood is going to flow. Small trout forceps will not get the job done. Especially when your fly is lodged eight inches back inside rows of needle sharp teeth.
Can I sight fish?
Sight fishing is possible. Watch for motionless or slowly cruising pike in shallow bays, near points, weed bed edges and drop offs. That “log” will suddenly rocket forward and inhale your fly. Otherwise, if you don’t see any fish, simply cover water with your casts in a fan pattern. Boats offer a clear advantage, but wade fishermen, as with Mackinaws, can catch these beasts.
The state record pike is over 30 pounds. Fish over 50 inches long have been shocked in Colorado reservoirs. My personal best was caught on a Yampa River float trip near Craig and went 44 inches long. Throughout Colorado, the species is thriving. Fly casters can put just as many if not more fish in the net as spin fishermen under the right conditions.
Some areas where northern pike threaten established trout fisheries or native fish stocks include the Yampa and Colorado Rivers. Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife requires or at least suggests that all pike that are caught be killed. Luckily, tender white pike fillets are perfect for a fish fry.
Where to Fish for the Northern Pike in Colorado
A few areas stand out as exceptional fly rod pike destinations in central and western Colorado within striking distance of the Vail Valley Anglers’ fly shop. My favorite is the Yampa River between Steamboat Springs and Craig. Float fishing offers your best shot at multiple trophy sized pike with a chance for a bonus five pound smallmouth bass in addition to two foot long brown trout. Williams Fork Reservoir near Kremmling is well known for producing huge northerns. Some of the most prolific and fastest growing pike in North America are found in Stagecoach Reservoir State Park south of Steamboat Springs. As a result of a steady diet of 10 inch rainbows keeps the pike fat and happy.
The experts at Vail Valley Anglers will be happy to get you started on chasing these alternative and oversized fish. The shop is stocked with all the rods, flies and terminal tackle you’ll need. Furthermore, helping you decide where to fish is the part of our job we really look forward to discussing. If you’re not in the Vail, CO area, don’t forget you can visit our online fly shop.
Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer