Learn the Basics of Pike Behavior for Spring Fly Fishing

News & Tips: Learn the Basics of Pike Behavior for Spring Fly Fishing...

Although the Northern Midwest is known for countless miles of pristine trout streams and lakes, every year anglers are discovering how fun and exciting spring pike fishing can be. Fly anglers need not be experts to catch the toothy critters, but simply have a basic understanding of their behavior and feeding habits.  

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Pike, like most other species of fish, need special care when being handled by anglers out of water.

Lakes, reservoirs, and certain river systems are all great habitats for harboring large aggressive pike while providing an excellent opportunity for fly anglers to target these exciting fish. The different part to fishing for pike is that although there are many pike lakes located in the vast secluded national forest, many of the local area lakes within a few minutes drive from towns and cities are great pike fisheries. Moreover, these bodies of water are usually less crowded as well.

For those of you who never have had the pleasure of catching a pike they can best be described as a ferocious-looking fish that are known as powerful fighters that have a nasty disposition. Anglers the world over agree that what these fish lack in beauty, they make up for with their willingness to devour a fly at a second's notice.

Best times to target fish  

With winter relinquishing its grip over our favorite bodies of water, conditions will not take long to rise to the fish's needed spawning temperatures. Pike normally move into the shallows in the early spring months, somewhere between May and June. Adult pike find comfort in these weedy shallows that provide the ideal spawning and feeding grounds. May and June are usually the most productive months. For fly anglers, identifying the spawning period is critical because fishing is usually hot prior to, and immediately after, the spawning has occurred. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to try and catch a monster pike on a fly rod seeing as fish are close to shore and within angler's casting range.

While cruising the shallows, pike will eagerly feed on almost anything they come across including frogs, mice, and waterfowl small enough to fit in the fish's jaws. Crustaceans and large aquatic insects are also within the pike's natural food repertoire making them one of the biggest opportunistic feeders you will ever come across. When approaching the shallows be careful not to spook them and fish sitting close to shore. If you do happen to spot a fish or see a particular fishy looking area do not cast right into it. Rather cast three to four feet away from your desired target and allow the fly to settle on the water's surface or sink below. Strip in the fly in an irregular fashion coordinating between short to long pauses and quick, short strips. Fish will attack aggressively so don't be shy when setting the hook. If you have a fish that is following your bait but not taking it, try speeding up the presentation and erratic movements made by your fly. Pike hate to have a bait fish slip from their powerful jaws so imitating a baitfish making a "getaway" is usually a good way to get pike to open up and take a bite.  

Tackle considerations  

Although pike may be large and aggressive predators, fly fishing for pike does not require much specialized gear for the angler to be successful:

Fly Rods/Fly Reels — If you own a fly rod and reel you already have most of the equipment you'll need to get started. Ideally a heavier-weight 9- to 9-1/2-foot fly rod will handle most conditions you will run across. If you are fishing waters that have trophy class fish, then sizing up to an 8- or 10-weight fly rod might be a good idea. Matching your reel to the rod weight is an important consideration no matter what type of fly fishing you will be doing, and having approximately 50 yards of 20-pound backing spooled onto the reel is a good idea. Pike do not spool out excessive amount of line while being fought on fly rods but with the possibility of hooking a trophy pike is present you probably could use the peace of mind of having a little extra line.

Fly Lines — As far as the fly line is concerned a forward floating line is what you need to present flies to fish in the shallows. Weight forward tapers are your number one choice in floating lines since they will cast large wind resistant flies further and easier than double taper lines.

Leaders — Stiff butt, heavy-duty leaders are a necessity when pike fishing. These heavy duty set-ups will make casting and presenting pike flies easier and less of a workout than with light leaders. These heavy-duty leaders are also needed to hold up to the shock of being attacked viciously by big, toothy critters.

Shock tippets — Although you are going to be using a heavy-duty leader, adding a short piece of shock tippet to the end of your leader will pay big dividends. Shock tippets are simply a short section of 25- to 30-pound test monofilament attached to the end of the leader. This shock tippet is ideal for withstanding the razor sharp teeth associated with these fish.

Fish gag — The only real piece of special equipment that is needed for pike fishing is a fish gag, so that you can remove your chewed flies from the fish's mouth in safety. For the novice pike fisherman it can be quite intimidating sticking your fingers in a toothy set of jaws. Never attempt to sneak into the mouth of a large pike to remove a fly, although they might seem docile while out of the water -- a quick closing of the jaws will give you scar to talk about for years. Fish gags are simply wire spreaders that open the jaws and safely keep them open until you have successfully removed your fly.

Pike Flies  

The pike flies available on the market today come in a wide variety of colors and fashions. Most are brightly colored and resemble saltwater or large bass flies. In most cases the patterns designed to catch bass will fool pike even in there smaller sizes. Flies that incorporate rabbit strips for tails and rubber legs seem to swim in the water and entices large, lackadaisical fish into striking. Another good fly for fooling pike is a topwater popper. The start and stop motion of these flies along with the loud "pop" send pike into a furry attacking everything they can get their mouths on. Patterns that include a weed guard are a good idea for beginner anglers since they are going to be fished in the weedy shallows and getting hung-up repeatedly on lilies can become very frustrating.  

If you are a fly-tier; pike flies are relatively simple to tie and can be a fun venture. Don't be afraid to use your imagination to combine fur and feathers to create a sultry pike-catching pattern.

Releasing pike  

Pike, like most other species of fish, need special care when being handled by anglers out of water. In the cases of large specimens, extra care needs to be taken because when out of the water the fish's frame cannot support the extreme weight of the body. Additionally when landing fish from shore be careful not to allow the thrashing fish to drag in the sand or mud because this debris can enter the gills resulting in serious internal damage.  If possible, try and keep the fish in the water while removing the fly and after a few quick pictures send it back on its way unharmed. If you plan on fly fishing from a boat then the use of a landing cradle can make things a little easier on the angler. Cradles are soft enough not to hurt the pike and large enough to gather even the largest of specimens. Just a reminder: the biggest of the pike you will be targeting are females, and taking extra precautions with these females will spell good fishing for younger generations for years to come.


When you are out on the water fly fishing for pike, many of the takes from fish will come right at the point when the fly is being pulled from the water to recast. It can be vexing to anglers but pike have a tendency to follow baits all the way into the edge of the boat without ever giving signs that they are following only to take a stab at the fly as it is leaving their view. Fly anglers need to slow down presentation as they get near the boat and use a set of irregular line strips to try and trigger these following pike into striking. 

Another good point to remember when pike fishing is that after each fish you catch you have to inspect your leader and shock tippet. Even though you are using a heavy duty tippet the razor-sharp teeth on a pike can slice the heaviest of mono. Run your fingers down the leader to the shock tippet to feel for nicks and cuts in the mono. If you find anything you think will weaken your set-up, take the tippet off and re-tie with a new section of line.

The spring can be a great time of year with many types of fishing opportunities for the educated fly angler.  Spring pike migrations bring fish into shallows giving fly anglers an excellent opportunity to target these toothy critters.  Try your luck casting flies to hungry post-spawn fish, it should make for some great rod bending action that you won't soon forget.