Turrall angler and fly designer Dom Garnett has been getting stuck into pike this month. Here are some recent tips and favourite fly patterns, with photography by John Deprieelle.
“With autumn arriving quite late this year, it’s only in the past fortnight that I’ve been actively targeting pike once again. Many of my friends are already kicking off with bait and lure fishing. But I’m not about to get out the pike bungs yet, because of all the ways to catch them in the autumn, the fly gives me the most confidence.
Not that autumn fishing is always easy. There can be a lot of debris in the water too, with drifting leaves and the summer weed growth yet to die back. Conditions and temperatures fluctuate and the pike are not always where you expect them. But the fly is a stealthy way to search a lot of water and little beats that sudden moment of connection with an angry, powerful fish.
Whether you like it or not, your weekend lie in could cost you your best chance of a big pike. Early morning is so often the prime hunting period for predators. That early phase of half light is when pike are at their most alert and prey are at their most vulnerable. Being on the water at the right time is key, so be prepared to rise early or warn the wife that you might be late home.
Find features or Prey?
Finding the pike can be another challenge in autumn. Should the angler seek out features and snags, or prey fish? Both strategies can work, but don’t always expect pike to be sitting right by the shoals of roach, rudd and bleak. They’ll often lurk a few yards away but will only predate actively for a couple of short spells in any one day.
How fast you move the fly for pike is a matter of personal choice, but it definitely pays to mix it up. Quite slow retrieves can be surprisingly effective and one of the biggest advantages the fly has over a typical lure is that it will work at much slower speeds.
When pike are seen hitting shoals of prey or are in the mood for a chase, by all means haul that fly in. But at other times a good general rule would be to keep your retrieve lively but don’t rush it. Several times I’ve had pike hit the fly when I have been doing nothing whatsoever; just looking over to a friend or resting the rod. Even at a near standstill, that fly breathes.
It’s always worth fishing and concentrating right to the end of every retrieve too. Leave it to hang over those final few yards, don’t rush and give the fly a final twitch or three.
Putting the Miles In
Pike might be aggressive, and even easy to catch at times. But remember these are also wild creatures. They can move quickly or become hard to catch in areas where anglers and poachers hang around. In recent fishing we’ve also had unexpected guests such as an adventurous seal, pushing well up the river to take salmon and pike!
It is absolutely key to stay on the move to catch pike consistently on the Somerset Levels, Fens or anywhere you find them on large freshwater systems. The more water you search, the more you’ll find, it is that simple.
Pike Fly Tackle
The strength and condition of pike can vary greatly between venues and seasons. But in the early and late season, a pike of just eight to ten pounds will give you serious battle so it’s vital that you set up tough.
I tend to pick a nine-weight outfit and tough leaders. Mine are seven feet or so of 20lb fluorocarbon, followed by a wire trace which I make from a rig ring, 16” of Authanic Wire and a durable snap link.
Pike fly fishing definitely takes its toll on your gear- and a lively fish will quickly find any weakness in your tackle. Do remember to test your knots and check everything at regular intervals. I like to tie my traces a little on the long side too, so that if the ends of the trace get kinked or worn, I can cut and carefully retie. You’ll also want a large, dependable landing net and unhooking mat for your pike fishing.
Pike Fly Patterns
So what are the best pike flies to use season round? They come in various styles and colours and can be quite daunting if you’re new to the game. Some are general fit patterns, but others are especially suited to different depths and types of venue.
For those with less experience of casting large flies, many of the bigger pike specials are rather cumbersome. So for a lot of my guiding I start people on smaller alternatives, such as the Frost Bite (below) or Tango. These are ideal on small waters such as canals and drains, where most pike are small and you might drop to an eight weight. Don’t believe for a minute that you need a huge fly to catch a big pike, because these have landed plenty of doubles.
Next, we have our most versatile artificials, our slow sinking, mid-sized pike flies. Many of these are made using layers of synthetic fibres or hair in a baitfish profile, such as the Stupid Boy (below, in Grey and White), although traditional materials and simple designs such as the Black Pike Bunny also produce a lovely wiggle and pulse, although they get heavier to cast.
Surface pike flies are another interesting diversion, perfectly suited to spring and autumn fishing. Many come from bass bugs and other creations, which have proved equally deadly for pike. Mice, frogs and even ducklings are possible.
Perhaps the best tip for fishing these is to try them in the last hour of light, or even into darkness if your nerves will stand it, and I like a black-coloured surface lure, whether it’s night or day.
This style of fishing isn’t associated with the cooler months usually, but curiously we’ve continued to get surface takes well past the end of summer this year. It seems to work particularly well in the final hour of the day, when the pike are seen busting up shoals of roach and bleak.
Fast Sinking pike flies finish our list, but can be the most useful option of all. Aimed at getting down on deeper and flowing waters, weighted patterns such as our Depth Seeker Predator Flies are very handy on rivers, getting down to the fish even in the push of the current. They also work well on deeper stillwaters, where they can allow you to get flies down a good depth without resorting to super fast sinking lines.
Or tie your own…
Of course, the other great thing to do as we prepare for the winter months is to tie your own pike flies. They are quite straightforward to make, with a little practice. All kinds of materials will work to create bait fish patterns too.
Savage Hair is an excellent value option at under £2 a packet, and can easily be combined with tinsels such as UV Multiflash to create plenty of movement and shimmer. Keep an eye out for more on the subject of pike patterns, with chances to win both flies and materials on the Turrall Flies Facebook Page and in this month’s Total Flyfisher Magazine.
Read Tangles With Pike
Dom Garnett’s book of pike fishing stories is available now in collectible hardback at just £14.99. Covering various methods in all seasons, it is packed with interesting articles and great photography. Find it at www.dgfishing.co.uk