Merwin: Try Pike On The Fly

Pike! Even the name is a little chilling, recalling a medieval spearlike weapon as well as a ferocious fish. That northern pike get very big, have abundant sharp teeth, and will--when the mood is right--violently attack a fishing lure is all part of the appeal. A little scary even, as if in casting a bait into dark water we might actually hook something that we can't control.

Most of my experiences with truly big pike have been in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The yardstick on "big" pike here is 40 inches long and means a fish of about 20 pounds. Some lakes seem to have fairly thin fish, and a 40-incher might only be 16 or 17 pounds. In other places, sometimes not far distant, the fish are thicker and such a fish might be several pounds over 20. Pike are very vulnerable to angling pressure, so finding lots of big ones generally means traveling by bush plane in the Far North and thus fishing lakes where fishing pressure is minimal and catch-and-release is the norm.

The fly-caught fish in the photo was taken (and released) in extreme northeastern Saskatchewan. It was, by any standard, a hell of a day, with several fish ranging from 40 to 45 inches, most on big streamer flies. At one point, while casting from a boat toward the mouth of a small inlet stream, I took 9 pike on 9 consecutive casts, fish that ranged from 34 to 39 inches. The fishing was good to the point of being silly.

By all means try for pike on a fly if you live near pike water. In the Lower 48 this won't mean scads of 20-pounders, but you'll still have lots of fun. A 9-weight fly rod will amply toss a 6-inch-long black rabbit-fur streamer, which I count as the best pike fly ever. Don't forget about 8 inches of wire between your nylon leader and the fly. Those are serious teeth...