Salomone: Setting up for fall pike action
There are a few times in the year when fly rods and northern pike meet in the shallows of large reservoirs. Springtime spawning is a welcome arrival after a long winter dealing with ice and snow in the Colorado high country. But when the autumn rolls in after a long, fruitful summer, large pike again move into the shallow water looking for the season’s last meal.
Essox, water wolves or just northern pike, nothing conjures up images of toothy mouths clamped around bushy flies like fall fly-fishing. By throwing flies the size of a bobwhite quail, anglers tempt shallow water monsters into eating giant hooks wrapped up in rabbit fur, feathers and flash. When the leaves turn yellow and fill the water, northern pike migrate into shallow water looking for large prey before the cold of winter slows everything down.
Numerous reservoirs within a short drive from Eagle hold large numbers of pike that you can catch by boat or from shore. Stagecoach, Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap reservoirs are just a few of the still waters in Colorado that hold trophy size northern pike. A quick search on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website will yield others.
Stocker rainbow trout, suckers and large crayfish are big food items that pike devour. Flies that imitate the size and pattern of common forage fish work tremendously well in fall. Casting large wet chickens through the air is both a pleasure and a curse. Watching a large undulating fly swim seductively through shallow water builds anxiety in anglers anticipating a ferocious attack.
This month, targeting the last of the green weed beds in the shallow water is prime area for fly anglers to achieve success. Weed beds that have died off from cold exposure do not hold the forage baitfish that attract northern pike. Articulated flies have the length to attract attention and move through the water with a realistic swimming action. Large flies push water, causing a significant disruption that long bodied pike feel from a great distance.
Rocky areas also gather aggressive feeding behaviors from pike that are prowling for crayfish. A blue-and-black fly fished closely to the rock structure is the best presentation. Pike are overly aggressive to begin with; compound that attitude with tough forage like crayfish, and pike end up hitting flies with authority, killing the prey in the process.
Northern pike will not come in easily if caught on a 5-weight fly rod. This is the realm of 8- and 9-weight fly rods. It is both the size of the fish you will encounter and the size of the flies you will be casting that requires the larger caliber rod. Casting pike flies will wear you out. A good double haul is a necessity. Rod companies have answered the call for specialized fly rods. Echo fly fishing makes a musky rod that doubles magnificently for northern pike.
Reels do not need to hold a tremendous amount of backing as most pike runs are relatively short bursts of speed. A strong drag is desirable. Stopping the force and power behind a broad pike tail can only be accomplished successfully with a good drag system. Ross Reels of Colorado has a large variety of fly reels such as the LTX, San Miguel and Evolution R that can withstand the rigors of pike fly-fishing.
Leaders could be a whole other article. Anglers seem to have their own preferences between braided-line, wire or heavy fluorocarbon. Each material has its strengths and weaknesses. Experimentation is the best way to glean your own opinion. Heavy fluorocarbon has been an asset in my northern pike fly-fishing for the past couple years. The translucence fluorocarbon possesses, especially in shallow water, is more forgiving than many other materials.
Fall is the time to step up and tempt the largest pike of the year with a fly. When prowling the bays and weedy banks in search of their last large meal, anglers achieve success with heavy rods, large flies and sore shoulders. Flexing your heavy fly rods after northern pike before winter storage comes along is a great way to spend an October afternoon.