Our Man In Canada
April 19th, 1999
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Fly-fishing for Prairie Pike

Pike Equipment And Rigging Up


By Clive Schaupmeyer

This the second of a series of five articles about fly-fishing for pike. The articles include: introduction; equipment and rigging; flies and other gear; when and where; and techniques.


You need heavy-duty gear for pike.

An 8- or 9-weight fly rod with a fighting butt is required, even if the pike where you fish are not very big. Heavier rigs help cast big, heavy streamers, and the extra power helps control even a mid-sized pike when it's buried in dense weeds. A 7-weight rod may be suitable if there's no chance of hooking a trophy fish, but definitely leave your new 5-weight trout rod at home, even if it has a great guarantee. Pike don't usually make long runs, but when they go they are unstoppable, and a feisty 12-pound pike will likely explode a light trout rod. In addition to the practical need for heavier gear, there's an ethical demand. A moderate-sized pike will take far too long to land with light gear, and likely be too tired for successful release. Match your gear to the fish.

A standard weight-forward, floating line will do for pike fishing and is what I used for several years. In 1998, I finally broke down and bought a floating Musky/Pike Taper, and it is superior for casting heavy flies. Normally flies attached to a floating line will naturally sink down two or more feet, and if the pike are deeper, one or two split shot can be added to the monofilament leader. Later in the summer, when pike are deeper down in cooler water, a sink-tip or full sinking line may be required.

Pike put a lot of stress on reels. Their short runs are unstoppable, and sooner or later you'll have your knuckles severely rapped by the reel handle. This high-speed stress is hard on reel innards, so buy a moderately priced to high-end reel with a positive drag system that will help control hard runs. Add 50 yards or so of 20-pound test braided Dacron backing to build up the line's diameter on the spool. This mainly is to speed up line retrieval, for it's unlikely you'll see the backing very often when pike fishing–but it can happen.

Four to six feet of 10- to 20-pound test, level monofilament leader is attached to the fly line with a loop-to-loop connection or nail knot. (Tapered leaders are neither necessary nor desirable for casting big flies). Loop-to-loop connections make for fast leader changes on the water. I use level monofilament, no more than six feet long, so I can manoeuver the pike in close without worrying about the loop connection hanging up in the top guides–which could happen with a leader longer than the rod. For those of us who are not powerful casters, the shorter leaders also result in better line and fly turnovers. However, some fly anglers prefer longer leaders during the later part of the season when pike are more cautious.

There are several combinations of materials and methods to connect flies to the end of mono leaders. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and different anglers have their own preferences. (Like most fly-fishing techniques, there are few right or wrong methods.)

I like to keep things simple and prefer attaching about eight inches of nylon-coated braided steel leader to every fly I tie. The steel fly leader is connected to the mono leader with a loop-to-loop connection. I've never had a steel leader break; changing flies is fast; and, other than simple end loops, no knots are used.

I've been attaching an eight-inch coated steel leader to every fly I tie by melting the outside of the plastic-coated steel leader. It's a simple system that has work for me for years. However, I was recently shown two other methods. There is a new type of braided steel leader which can be tied to the fly with a standard clinch knot. Sounds good. I was also recently show the figure-8 knot. It looks great and I will definitely be trying this knot this spring.


Figure-8 knot

Steel leaders occasionally kink and twist, and since they are impossible to straighten must be replaced.

The melt method is as follows. Steel leaders are attached to flies by threading two inches of leader through the eye and then twisting the tag end around the main section several times. (Similar to the initial twists on a clinch knot.) The twists are then fused together with a butane lighter flame. The twisted loops are briefly heated until they bubble and turn white, but not so long that they burn. A similar loop is formed at the other end of the steel leader to attach to the mono leader–which also has a loop. Steel leaders can also be attached to flies by crimping on metal sleeves. The sleeves and crimping tools are available at most tackle shops.

Some pike fly anglers prefer using hard, teeth-resistant 20 - or 30 - pound monofilament leaders, and tie on flies–usually with a clinch knot–without steel leaders. Fine. I tried this the first time I fly-fished for pike and lost a fair-sized fish because it hit from the side and sheared the leader. However, monofilament leaders may be an advantage in heavily fished water where pike are leader shy.

Special pike leaders that have a section of braided steel at the fly end are available. I found them inconvenient for changing flies, so continue using mono leaders attached to the fly line, and steel leaders attached to my flies. It's simple and it works.

Next week: Flies and other gear. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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