Fly-Rodding for Spring Pike - Wilderness North

Celebrating 30 Years of Wilderness North  –          

Fly-Rodding for Spring Pike

In the last decade I’ve fly fished for a whole whack of unusual species. From 6-foot sharks and 100-pound tarpon in the Keys, to walleye, perch and lake trout in Northern Ontario. Gone are the days when fly fishing meant little trout on wispy rods and tiny flies. Today, just about anything that swims is game for the fly angler, with one of the most dynamite fly fishing species in Canada being the northern pike. They are abundant throughout the country and especially abundant in Northern Ontario. They are voracious predators with not much other than eating on their mind. Their days are filled with munching on just about anything that looks good to eat, and often can be seen on warm spring days basking in the sun in shallow bays. (Not unlike a few fishing pals I’ve known over the years.)

The months of May and June are the most productive times of year to fly fish for pike. They spawn in shallow, weedy bays and hang around in these environs to take advantage of the feeding opportunities these warming waters offer in the spring sun. Often in clear waters these yard-long fish can be spotted lying motionless just under the surface. They may appear pleasantly docile but once something catches their interest they take off like a reckless torpedo. A large streamer fly in flashy colours will often snap these boys into action and bring them charging through the shallows, parting the reeds in their wake like a moose crashing through the tag alders. Their strikes are unmistakably violent and a wise angler keeps a good grip on his rod while retrieving the fly.

Quite often fishing these weedy post-spawn shallows produces the biggest pike the lake has to offer. Like any species the biggest fish compete for prime spawning grounds to ensure continued strength and size in the gene pool. This is indeed a great time to hunt for pike in the twenty-pound-plus category.

Naturally, gunning for fish of this size – with exceptionally sharp and numerous teeth – requires a great departure from traditional fly fishing gear. You’re going to need a fly rod and reel system suited for heavyweights, large streamer flies, and a wire shock tippet to reduce the chances of pike sheering off your fly with their razor-like teeth. I’ve lost a number of flies to huge pike while fishing for other species. Their teeth are so sharp the strike is not felt at all; you just see them swipe at your fly and instantly it’s gone.

To begin with, you’re going to need a fly rod in the nine- or ten-weight category. I fish with a Sage RPLXi 1090 (ten-weight, nine-feet long). This rod is actually designed for salt-water fishing and has an action that is best suited for casting into the wind with large flies. Not to mention handling big, fast fish. The next component is the fly reel. There is an abundance of great reels on the market that will suit your needs, but make sure the reel has a solid drag and has the capacity to hold a ten- or eleven-weight fly line and at least 200 yards of backing. I fly fish for pike with a Canadian-made Islander LX 4.0 fly reel. Again, this reel is designed for fishing the salt, and has the necessary durability for bruisers. I may not get into my backing that often with pike, as they tend to do battle in close quarters – but hey, who knows when I’m going to find myself on the tarpon flats again.

A floating fly line specifically designed for pike fishing is a good investment if you’re serious about these predators. Scientific Anglers makes a fly line called a Pike Taper, which has the necessary bulk for delivering big flies into the wind. Often I oversize my fly line by one size (i.e. Eleven-weight line for a ten-weight rod) to give me extra punch into the wind. Most modern high-modulus graphite rods can easily handle an oversized line by one or two sizes. You may want to add a sink-tip line to your arsenal in case the fish are suspended a little deeper, but for most spring applications a floater will suffice. Besides, there is nothing like watching your fly get annihilated by a big pike as it skips along just under the surface. The water explodes with splash and spray and lots of noise, and even if you’re half asleep you’ll snap back on the rod with a vengeance out of sheer astonishment. Pike are anything but delicate, so be sure to put the wood to them when they strike your fly. I like to drill them so hard they cross their eyes. It gets them mean and into the mood for a good fight.

Your terminal gear is as important as the rod, reel and fly line. As I mentioned before you need to add some durability to your tippet unless you just want to give away your flies to pike all day. I’ve found that tie-able braided titanium is great for bite leaders and can be easily attached to your fly with a minimum of monkeying around. At the leader end, the bite leader is attached with an Albright knot (normally used to attach backing onto fly line).

The final component is of course the fly. You want something big. In fact, you want the biggest fly you can possibly cast. I tie my own six-inch pike creations on big saltwater hooks with gaudy materials and either bead chain, painted, or doll eyes. Pike being the nasty predators they are, target the head of their prey and deliver a dilapidating bite using the eye as a benchmark. Needless to say pike flies need to be durable, but even the most durable pike flies get ripped apart after a couple of fish. It’s all a part of the game when you’re going after Northern Ontario’s most voracious and abundant predatory game fish.


Pike are an exciting, readily available and cooperative fish for fly rodders. Change the channel this spring and give fly fishing for pike a try – for at least for one outing. Make sure you hold on to your rod!
Scott Earl Smith

Get all the latest Wilderness news

By signing up for our Newsletter you agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.