Nate and I just got back from our annual trip fly fishing for Pike in Ontario, Canada at Lake Esnagi (Mar Mac Lodge). We’ve been fishing this lake for over 15 years, our families for over four decades. While the weather was crappy, the fishing was excellent.
The ice went out on Lake Esnagi in the first week of May as usual, but it was an unseasonably cold spring. So early in the week, the only fish we had access to were the hammer-handles in the deeper water bays with rocky structure. We also caught walleye on the fly on these rock piles.
The last two days of the trip, the big pike finally showed up in the shallow flats and we laid the righteous smack down on them, poling around in two feet of water on sand flats near feeder creeks. For conditions to work, you needed flat water and hot sun. The fish would cruise around in the shallows, and you would sight-fish to the biggest pike.
More often than not, the problem was that the fish were too close by the time you spotted them. Try not to spook them with a cast, land the fly ahead of the fish by a foot, take one or two short strips, maybe a fast one to get the fish hot on it. And then you’d be out of room, forty inches of pike finning next to your fly with two inches of line sticking out of your rod tip.
Some fish would come in hot, pushing water with gills flared. Others would fin over, maddeningly slow, and suck in the fly. Or not. The biggest fish I saw all week followed my fly for over 200 yards while the boat drifted as the wind pushed me off the flat. The fish creeped along behind the fly, nuzzling it with its snout a couple feet from the boat.
We tried all kinds of different patterns and materials for flies this year and as you might have guessed, simple and durable pike fly patterns outperformed flies with extra bells and whistles. Gamakatsu 2/0 saltwater hooks were our first choice. For tailing materials, Icelandic Sheep fur and bunny strips are equally sexy in the water and can produce a large silhouette. Rabbit can be more durable, sheep is much lighter to cast. We tried different kinds of body materials, from palmered Antron to dubbing loops of various colors of craft fur and Eumer Finnish Racoon fur.
The dubbing loop flies looked hot, especially with the huge color palette of cheap craft fur to work with, but we found that the craft fur would wrap around the tail and the hook shank too much. The Eumer dubbing loop flies fished much better — the natural fibers kept their shape in the water better and didn’t wrap. Downside: Natural materials quality varies and is about three times as expensive.
We’ve got some ideas for modifying our flies for next year, like adding a stiff mono loop underneath a rabbit strip tail (like on some tarpon flies) to keep it from fouling. We also experimented with a ton of colors, but found black, white and chartreuse were the best.
I fished an eight-weight Winston BIIX with a Nautilus Seven reel. I started out fishing Rio Gold — the same line that gave me nightmares last year by twisting into knots. Halfway through the week I switched to an eight-weight Clouser Taper line and everything changed. It casts great and doesn’t knot at all.
Lastly, we usually fish a straight, eight-foot fluorocarbon leader for pike, never wire. The 25lb test has never given us a problem in the past, but for whatever reason this year, the fish kept biting through the 25lb SeaGuar. We wound up attaching a short section of 50lb fluoro for a shock tippet with an Albright knot. Somewhere in the middle is probably optimal for leaders.
If you’re headed out on a pike trip this summer, stop by the shop or give us a call. -MS
Check out our new fly fishing for pike video on YouTube: