Fly Fishing for Pike – Recommended Gear, Best Flies & Tactics (Beginner’s Guide)


As soon as I start to feel that Autumn chill come around, one thing springs to mind.

Pike! I love catching pike on the fly.

They are an incredible species to target for numerous reasons. They are also a very accessible species that can generally be found in most bodies of water.

Their sheer power and wrath are most impressive if you see how quickly they can appear behind your fly and, in a blink of an eye, either smash it or completely disappear, it’s enough to leave you amazed. Pike do this to you.

They are a great fish to target on art lures and fly rods alike. I’m not an art lure fisherman, so I couldn’t help you there, but I can give you some insight into catching pike on a fly rod and reel.

From where to look and what to look for, to how to fish and what flies to fish. I will give you an insight into my thoughts and processes of targeting these fish.

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fisherman holds a pike fish close-up

Can You Catch a Pike with a Fly Rod?

In short, yes! As I have said before, any fish is catchable on a fly, and you just have to know what they eat, imitate it, and present it properly.

Pike are predators that feed on various baitfish in their water systems. With this knowledge, we will adopt a baitfish fly pattern mindset for our entire time on the water.

When the months get colder, the pike start to feed and feed hard! No baitfish is safe, and this makes great fishing for us. Hard and fast retrieves with erratic movements are what is in order. On occasion, we can catch them on topwater, which is also great fun.

Most associate pike with large bodies of still water and forget about the rivers. In my mind, river pike are on a whole other level and fight hard. Sure, they may not grow as big as the still water ones, but they are great fun to catch.

Whether you fish for pike from a inflatable fishing boat on a great lake or target them down on the local river below the weir, they are great fun to hook and land on a fly rod.

two big freshwater pikes on fishing net

When and Where to Find Them?

I like to target pike in the autumn time. Most of the trout rivers are closed, and before the still water trout season kicks off, I always enjoy heading out for a few pike. The colder months are definitely the better time to go for pike, in my opinion.

I’m not saying you can’t catch them in the warmer summer months, but they go deep if the water becomes too warm. Pike can be found to feed in waters as high as 60°F, so anything around there you will have a shot.

Work the deeper cuts and ledges with a slow retrieve in the warmer conditions. I like to employ a faster retrieve and mindset for the cooler waters. FLEEING BAITFISH is what I think of and try to imitate when out there.

So, you can concentrate your efforts on and around the bank edges and bays for the colder months. The baitfish will hold here in the warmer water, and this is where the pike will be waiting. I like to fish from a boat here, casting from the deeper water up to the shallows.

My efforts will be focused on working the shallow areas with speed and disturbance. I find that the pike often track the fly right to the boat and eats at the last possible moment. Don’t be afraid to change your pattern to a surface pattern. Pike love a surface fly, and it is an awesome visual to hook and catch one with it.

The deeper waters can also be productive when fishing deep with a very slow retrieve. Look for any outcrops and rocky areas as this is where the fish will concentrate and hold, waiting for food. A bathymetric map is also handy to get hold of should you want to better understand the ledges and channels of the large piece of water.

For extra information read on the Best Time to Fish for Pike.

pike fish on lake

Equipment Needed to Start Fly Fishing for Pike

Fly Rod

Pike, get big! They pull hard and can be dirty fighters, which is one reason I fish an 8wt fly rod for these fish. Being hard fighters is one thing, and casting big baitfish patterns is another. The heavier rod helps to turn these flies over and get some distance.

I like a 10ft rod. The extra foot does help if fishing from the sitting position in a boat. The extra length also helps when enticing them near the boat edge like you would a musky.

A fast action rod is my first choice, but if you aren’t tuned into a casting a faster rod, then stick to what you feel comfortable with. There is nothing worse than not enjoying your casting stroke while on the water. My go-to rod at the moment is the TFO 9’ 8wt Mangrove.

Read on how to choose the right fly rod. If you still find yourself stuck, a chat with the local fly shop guide on rods should get you going.

Reel

Your reel is just as important, especially when targeting those big autumn still water fish. They are heavy and mostly make a very hard first run, and it is at this time that you need to muscle them and gain control; else, things could turn south fast.

A large arbor reel is good to have as this will hold at least 100 yards of backing for you, and it will also help with line retrieval.

A smooth drag is important. While you aren’t fishing tippets that are too thin and risk popping one, it is never good to have jerky actions on the outgoing line; it just puts unnecessary stress on the whole setup.

I use a Shilton SL6. This is a beast of a reel and balances my rod well.

Fly Line

A floating line is all you will generally need, and you may need an intermediate or sinking if you know you will be fishing deep waters.

A weighted forward line is best and will allow you to turn those bigger flies over.

Leaders and Tippets

I keep my setup simple. A 9ft fluoro is a good start to help it sink a little, and then a 30lbs tippet. Some anglers use trace wire, but this is a personal choice.

I find the 30-40lbs tippet to be good for my uses and don’t get many bite-offs.

fly fishing equipment - fly rod, reel, backpack, fly box and flies

What are the Best Flies for Pike?

When it comes to flies for pike, think big flies. Pike eat baitfish, mice, frogs, and waterfowl and have even been known to eat squirrels. For this reason, when you fish for pike, you need to be comfortable with casting flies between 4-9inches in length.

Pike aren’t too picky about what fly you throw at them. Provided it looks like something similar to what they would usually eat. You have a good shot at hooking one.

One thing to consider is that pike don’t like flies that drop too fast, what I mean is a fly that plummets down through the weeds and grass.

They tend to favor the fly on the hang between pauses, especially in the shallower waters. Read this article to better understand fly fishing flies and how to fish them.

Running through what I have in my fly box:

  • Baitfish patterns – Clouser minnows, Northwood ninja, Game changes, and EP Baitfish
  • Aquatic and others – Pole dancers, deer hair jumbo diver, pike snake, and frog imitations

These patterns cover my conditions and local waters. Should you need to add to the list for your specific uses, please go for it.

fly fishing rod and reel with different types of fishing flies

Strategies and Techniques

Catching pike on the fly doesn’t have to be complicated. If you have a basic plan of attack and the right flies, there isn’t any reason you won’t catch them.

I always have the same approach to whichever body of water I’m fishing on.

Stillwater

Still waters can be tricky, especially if they are large and if you haven’t fished them before. It always helps to have some first-hand experience of the water you are fishing, notes from a previous trip, advice from mates who know the area, etc.

If you don’t have any of this, a little homework needs to be done before the trip. Google earth, the water looks for structure, inlets, and sheltered bays, and these are all places that pike would be holding.

Fish the drift onto the inlet or bay, and once near, work the adjacent banks and ledges with shallow, erratic strips or even a surface pattern. This is when the takes are usually explosive and hard, so be ready.

Drifting and searching deep water also works and gives you time to plot your next move. Fish an intermediate or sinking line here with slower, longer retrieves for the best results.

Rivers

Rivers can be great fun for pike and are often fished as a quick session after work. Well, in my circumstances, they are. River pike are a little more difficult to target and are a bit smarter in my mind. But they are still very catchable and great fun to fish for.

You get to know the rivers that you fish on weekly, so if you are catching on your local, then great.

If it is your first time on a certain river, use vegetation and structure to guide you to the possible pockets where the pike will hang. This is where you can adopt a trout-like approach to how and where the fish will hold in the current.

Eddies, seams, and tail-outs are all good spots to focus on. Baitfish patterns stripped up and across these areas worked very well. Even the old steelhead swing works wonders on the bigger, faster-moving waters.

I like to fish slightly small baitfish patterns in the moving water. A little added weight to the head of the fly is a good idea you want the fly to get down fast to where the fish may be holding.

Once you have found a fish in a certain holding pocket or off a seam, fish it again; you would be surprised how the pike congregate in these areas of less current. They may be smaller in size but still great to catch on a fly rod.

The nice thing about fishing a river stretch is that you can generally move easier and cover more water should the fishing not be that great in one spot.

Conclusion

With pike being so accessible to many fly fishers, I often wonder why I don’t see more anglers out on the waters. Maybe the cold weather keeps them at home, who knows?

You now know how to go about catching a pike on a fly rod, and with a few practice sessions, you will be a pike master in no time.

If there is anything else you would like to add or have a question please comment in the below section.

Have fun out there and catch fish.

Tight Lines!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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