I have fished all over northern Canada nearly every summer since my senior year in high school over twenty years ago. In all those trips I've had the chance to fish for every species from King Salmon in British Columbia to Brook Trout in Quebec. While I love them all, it's the pursuit of big northern pike keeps me coming back year after year.
Last July, I spent a fantastic week fishing the rivers and lakes around the Saskatchewan side of giant Lake Athabasca. This trip was particularly interesting because we fished several fly-in spots while staying on Engler Lake at a camp operated by Athabasca Fishing Camps.
On our last day, we chose to fish on a lake that had produced one of the best days of trophy pike fishing I have ever experienced. Although I couldn't expect the fishing to be as hot as it had been earlier in the week, I did hope to catch and release a few more pike in 20 lb. class. This time I brought along my fly rod since the conditions were perfect for taking a big northern on the surface.
Bill Schaefer, my fishing partner from Milwaukee and I fished most of the day with conventional tackle and did extremely well. Since Bill is not a fly fisherman, I waited to use the fly rod until late in day. Knowing how much I wanted to flyfish, Bill graciously agreed to position the boat while I tried for a pike on the fly.
We chose a classic post-spawn location for big northerns. The lake had an expansive weed-filled bay with a large river at one end that left the lake headed for an even larger lake downstream. At the entrance to the river the bottom dropped from three to thirty feet. There was moderate current. From the river entrance on for more than four miles, the river twisted and turned while the bottom depth varied between two and twenty feet. It was at the river entrance and several of the downstream pools that I cast for pike.
Fly casting for pike is physically demanding because of the large wind-resistant flies that are used. It is not difficult and offers the novice flycaster perhaps the best opportunity to catch and release a trophy fish. Pike can be very aggressive, at times charging across a bay to attack a fly cast only a short distance from the boat.
I used a nine wt. rod with a weight forward floating line to cast a rabbit strip diver. I used a six foot leader with a wire tippet made of Fenwick Iron Thread. Bill positioned the boat so I could cast to the edge of weeds growing in shallow water close to the bank. Sometimes I would retrieve the fly out of the shallows and continue to work it over deeper water. Often the pike would attack it immediately. Other times, they would come up out of twenty foot depths to engulf the fly. In a three hours of fly fishing I caught and released over 40 northerns. Most were small fish under 8 pounds. Several were large fish and my best was a 44 inch beauty that clearly exceeded twenty pounds by a healthy margin. All of these fish were easily released.
The thing that makes flyfishing for pike so special is the strike. When pike take a big deer hair mouse or diver off the surface, they don't slurp it in like a bass, they attempt to kill it. It is nothing short of spectacular to see a twenty pound northern charge a fly. The big northern I mentioned earlier literally came out of the water creating an explosion in the water that neither Bill or I will likely forget.
Perhaps the best part about flyfishing for pike is that it doesn't take a twenty pounder to provide exciting sport. The smaller ones attack flies in the same thrilling fashion. All the action takes place right in front of you so you see every strike.
Anyone who can fly cast good enough to catch panfish can with a little on-the-water practice, can cast good enough to catch pike. Delicate presentations are not necessary and pike seldom require long casts. Windy days can cause problems when you are just starting off. Wait for decent casting conditions on your first try. Even more importantly, choose the time of year and waters that are mostly likely to offer pike in shallow water situations.
Northern Canada offers the best pike fishing available in North America, but these days it's crucial to choose outfitters that require release of larger fish. Small fish are fine for eating but the trophies are too valuable to kill.
Pick the right waters and fly fish for big northerns. It's one of the most exciting experiences available in freshwater fishing.
Bruce Rueben at firstname.lastname@example.org . Bruce would be pleased to hear from you to share a story, tips, or maybe to help you with some advise.
Last modified on July 21st, 1997
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