Spring and Summer Pike Fly Fishing: Top tips and fish care essentials

With the climate as unpredictable as ever these days, traditional fishing seasons don’t always add up. It’s not unusual to catch dry fly trout in March, or predators in May and June. But if we do choose to chase large yet sensitive fish like pike, what are the ground rules? Turrall’s Gary Pearson and Dom Garnett have some excellent tips to ensure that both you and your quarry thrive!

Is it still ok to go pike fishing in spring and summer? When are the best times and locations?

Pike are best suited to cooler waters- you only have to look at their natural range to see this. Not only can they be lethargic in warmer temperatures, they are deceptively fragile, too. So our first question should never be whether we want to catch them, but whether we can do so safely in the first place.

If you are to continue fishing beyond the traditional winter season, it’s imperative to take extra with your catch, regardless of size.

Only you can make that call, but it’s up to all of us to protect our catch. Here are some rough guidelines around waters once temperatures get higher. These are not hard and fast rules, but sensible starting points:

Safer pike waters

  • Large reservoirs
  • Deeper natural lakes where fish have access to cooler water year-round.
  • Bigger rivers with decent flows and cold water

Venues to avoid

  • Canals- and especially the shallowest, where water can get very warm.
  • Drains and fens, especially those lacking any deeper water.
  • Small or shallow lakes
  • Slow flowing rivers
  • Venues where pike are under intense angler pressure
  • All venues once the warmest weather sets in, especially in July and August!

Shallow canals and drains might be excellent in winter- but get too hot for safe pike fishing in the summer. 

 Actual water temperature is another matter for debate- but suffice to say the higher temperatures get, the less dissolved oxygen water will hold. As soon as water temperaturess get up into mid to late teens, danger is greatly increased. Nor is fishing early or late going to make a huge difference, because water temperatures are far less changeable than air temperatures.

Keep tackle strong and battles brief

Using strong tackle helps to keep pike battles short but sweet!

Of course, it’s not just water temperature that’s the main issue with pike. It’s also a case of how we tackle up and how much stress we put on them. At any time of year, it’s important to use tackle that will allow us to apply plenty of pressure and land pike quickly, because a long fight can exhaust them and make recovery harder. Since these fish are not tackle shy, we’d never suggest less than 20lb leaders, along with a robust wire trace.

As for rods and setups, a nine-weight should be seen as a minimum at these times of year. For larger waters with the chance of big fish, a ten is even better in the summer. Tackle up so that you can bully fish in quickly and you won’t go far wrong. Pike will fight like fury on warmer days and gone are the days of playing these fish for an age on light gear.

We’ll discuss more on fish care shortly, including equipment and safe practice.

Mix up your tactics and be prepared to go deeper!

A well-conditioned spring fish, taken along a steep drop-off. It took a Turrall gold Pike Flasher- an excellent choice to get down to fish fast.

One especially notable trend as temperatures start to rise is that pike are less tightly concentrated. Once spawning is done and prey fish disperse, pike will start to move away from the shallows and can be quite unpredictable in their whereabouts. There’s no guarantee October or December’s hotspot will still produce.

Quite often you’ll find only small jacks in the margins, as inviting as they look. The better fish might not be miles away- but are likely to drop down into areas of ten feet and greater. As the temperatures rise further, they’ll retreat even further to where the water is cooler.

One important tool in your arsenal is therefore a fast sink pike fly line. The market has never exactly been saturated with these, which is why we’ve been delighted to see Cortland’s special Pike and Musky fly line coming to the UK.

best sinking pike fly line

This is not a general fit line, but a highly specialised tool to cast large flies and get them down quickly to where the fish are. It’s an excellent choice for any venues where you need to go deep- and especially those where you might regularly find productive depths of 10-20ft.

The only drawback with fast sink lines is that their sheer weight means that you may find hooking into fish slightly harder. If you get any bite when a lot of line is out, there’s likely to be a bit of “belly”- so it pays to not only strike with the line, but also lift the rod hard, to tighten up as efficiently as possible.

Be meticulous and methodical

As much as any time of year, pike fishing from April to June is about being rigorous in your approach. We’ve just mentioned that you may need to fish deep- but pike won’t always be nailed to the bottom. Trying different depths and retrieves makes sense here, to cover different levels- but be really fussy about this.

One must is to count down to different depths and log this mentally, with a slow “one-and-two-and-three…” etc. Even with a fast sink line, you might be counting to ten, fifteen or twenty on a deep water!

Be similarly methodical with drifts, too. You’ll cover far more water on a drifting boat with a drogue than you ever would at anchor. Try different distances from the shore, paying close attention to this. Picking out markers on the bank is a good tip, and making a mental note. If you get takes, you can then repeat the drift!

Finally, concentration is also key, especially on days you may only get a handful of pulls. With sinking lines, especially, few fish will hook themselves, so be ready to react fast and firmly!

Choose your flies with care

 For whatever reason, fly colours seem to be more critical in the spring and summer than at any other time of year. This could be because the pike have already seen pressure right through the winter on a lot of waters. It could also be because flies often need to be fished at greater depths- and the later in the year it gets, the more algae develops, creating a greenish tinge.

There’s a very good reason the Turrall range includes several black pike flies!

Experimentation is very much the way to go. However, if we had to pick one colour at this time of year it would be one of the least fashionable: black!

On our most recent reservoir session, it was a black or black and copper coloured fly that definitely seemed to get most attention. At various intervals we tried other colours- but dark flies stood out a mile, in perhaps more ways than one.

Don’t forget to check out Turrall’s range of pike flies. We stock over two dozen of the best flies for pike these days- with plenty of colour choices. We only tie ours on top quality, extra strong hooks. The only other recommendation we’d make is to crush the barbs down on your flies to ensure quick removal- it’s much kinder on the fish.

Handle with care- and release every pike safely!

 Last but by no means least, please, please, please take extra care with pike if you must continue fishing into the summer. You owe it to the fish. Consider that a 15lb pike can lay around 500,000 eggs per year and you quickly see it only takes a small number of careless anglers to have a big impact on a fishery.

Gary Pearson carefully releases an excellent stillwater pike of 26lbs. Fish like this demand complete respect.

Above all, it’s about good organisation and common sense. We’re not going to tell anyone how to fish, but it’s up to all of us to respect pike – and this means putting their needs before our own preferences.

Here are some sensible fish care guidelines to follow:

  • Always use strong tackle and keep fights as short as possible.
  • Keep your fish wet wherever possible. At the end of a hard fight, give pike a few seconds in the water, in a submerged net, to reduce stress.
  • Have all your gear ready, from forceps and scales to camera. Every second counts in warmer weather. Well organised anglers put less stress on pike.
  • Don’t skimp on the essentials. Have quality long unhooking tools and an extra large soft-meshed net and unhooking mat ready. These are long fish, so trout and salmon sized gear is not sufficient.
  • If you want to take a picture or two, be as quick as you can. These are amazing, living creatures and not Instagram trophies!
  • Never simply let a fish go after an intense fight. Support it carefully, upright in the water, until the fish is clearly ready to swim off. This could take a minute or two if it has battled hard, so look after your catch.
  • Working in partnership with another angler makes a lot of sense with pike. On a boat, for example. One of you can move any clutter out of the way- and set up a sling, for example, to weigh a large fish. Communication is key here, so be clear and decisive.
  • If you find yourself in heatwave conditions, or the fish migrate very deep, give the pike a break. Even if you were still hell-bent on catching them, they tend to go very deep and become quite lethargic in these conditions. And we have the whole autumn and winter to come, after all!

Happy fishing- and do respect those pike!

 

How to fish the static buzzer: The ultimate fly fishing tactic for fussy small water trout?

In late winter, or any tricky day, it can be a tough job to get trout to cooperate. But canny presentation and the right flies can a biteless session into a success! Dom Garnett watched Gary Pearson like a hawk at Devon’s Simpson Valley Fly for a fascinating lesson in how to tempt elusive fish.

Gary Pearson fly fishing South West UK
Have you ever had one of those days on the bank when the fish just don’t seem interested? It could be a fishery we like and flies we have full confidence in; but what happens when the fish won’t play ball?

This blog article starts with a confession: we’d booked a day on the excellent Simpson Valley Fishery’s Skylark Lake, but the fish hadn’t read the script. This article could have been about using mini lures or even hoofing great snake flies, but that would have required an act of fraud! The truth is that the trout just wouldn’t look at them, and so after forty minutes of biteless head scratching, it was time to a rethink.

With a nice ripple on the water, between spots of hail, my immediate thought was to try gently drifting some buzzers. But with Gary’s background in competitive angling, I was curious to see what his answer would be. To say I was in for a bit of a surprise is a bit of an understatement.

A different take on the indicator and buzzer combo…

Best buzzer fly patterns Turrall

While I drifted two buzzers in the ripple, still not getting so much as a nip, I spied Gary setting up a 15ft leader and team of three, along with a conspicuously bright “Thingamabobber” strike indicator. Even more unusually, he was fishing quite close in at the other end of the lake- and not retrieving at all.

Gary Pearson fly fishing in Devon

Within the next few minutes, the curse word that floated along the bank told me he’d missed a take. Moments later, though, there was no mistake at his second chance as the rod thumped over. What  on earth was his trick? And why on earth were my buzzers being flatly refused while he was tempting fish on the same flies?

Setting up for static buzzer fishing

When it comes to fishing buzzers almost at rest, a bit of clarification should perhaps be made first. While fishing these flies with almost no retrieve but letting the breeze do the work is commonplace, here we are talking about a different line of attack: letting the flies settle so that they are not moving at all!

Gary’s set up is a 15ft leader, with a red bead head buzzer on point. This helps to get the leader straightened fairly quickly for a tidy presentation. This fly will be on the bottom much of the time, serving to anchor the rest in place. Some three foot up from this, we have a lighter buzzer pattern (a black size 14 today) with another buzzer above it.

red buzzer fly fishing

His indicator is not the foam type, but a Thingamabobber. Now, these look quite big and obvious, I’ll grant you, but they are easy to spot and very durable. Faff-free compared to a lot of the alternatives. Yes, some traditionalists will spit (usually while they watch the end of their fly line as a very obvious brightly coloured indicator!) but it does the job beautifully.

The total distance between indicator and point fly can be varied. You could try drifting the flies, but for a completely static presentation you’ll likely need the point fly right on the bottom (about eight feet is about right today).

I should also say something about Gary’s droppers. Now, I am as guilty as the next man of making mine too short and using whatever tippet material I have to hand. Not best practice! By making them around a foot long and using a nice supple, high quality material (Gary is really impressed with the new Cortland Ultra Supple- which is very strong but still quite thin in 7.2lb strength) you get much better presentation.

Blank saving tactics!

Just to prove it’s no fluke, Gary’s soon into his next fish. At about a pound, it’s a typical Skylark rainbow and is released without touching the bank at all. Good practice for these rather fragile fish, which shouldn’t be messed around with if you are to release them safely. I’m now rather relying on my catch and take ticket if we are to get some reasonable photos.

I’m not getting anywhere by drifting flies, so it’s time to follow suit! Generously, Gary lets me pinch a beaded buzzer, while I add another lighter pattern on the dropper. A size 14 or even 16 might look small, but for fussy fish on a lake where some of the fish have been tricked before, subtlety can be a big help.

Dominic Garnett fly fishing
Fishing only around twelve yards out, as the water deepens, it doesn’t take long to get some interest. The first take is so gentle, however, I wonder if it’s a take at all. I let my flies settle completely still and seconds later, the indicator gives the merest little dip. I tighten up almost out of pure curiosity and am surprised to feel a fish kicking away hard. From almost two hours without a bite, the change of tactics has worked within minutes.

Copy cats!

From a pretty lousy day out, the bites now start to come regularly. Mrs Garnett will appreciate a couple of trout to eat, no doubt. Also joining us a bit late are my dad and brother. Tellingly, they have a slow start on their usual favourite flies and tactics before I advise them to shamelessly copy Gary’s static buzzer trick.

Simpson Valley fly fishing

Most of the fish seem to want the middle dropper fly, a small black or red buzzer in a size 14, although I seem to be getting most of mine on the point fly. Presumably this must be hard on the bottom most of the time and some bites only arrive after several minutes, perhaps suggesting that the trout are very deep today and not at their most active.

Equally interesting is trying to get John Garnett to catch a fish. It’s not every week I can wrestle him away from the twin horrors of gardening and test match cricket, so I’m eager to see him net something. So far though, in spite of using very similar flies, it’s a blank.

The main difference, however, is that his leader seems a bit (how do you say this to your old man?) thick. It’s constructed from fairly robust Maxima line (which I don’t want to knock because I love this stuff for my coarse fishing) and the droppers are on the short side. While he has a sandwich break, I quickly insist on switching him to the Cortland tippet material and making those droppers and his final tippet longer.

Indications soon follow, but I fancy that he’s not always identifying the quite small nudges as bites. The simple rule here is that you should strike at even a slight sign of a fish; you lose nothing by doing so  and if it’s a slow day the fish won’t always rip that line away.

Soon enough, we’re all catching a few fish. Smiles are back on faces and a trout supper is finally on the cards. It’s also a big lesson on the value of this simple but subtle and deadly tactic, however. My strong suspicion is that we Garnetts would have caught absolutely nothing without taking a leaf from Gary’s book and trying the static buzzer.

Granted, it isn’t the most romantic way of fly fishing. It does take some patience and attention to detail, too. But tell me- would you rather blank than do something a bit different? But how many of us would do just that before announcing that stocks are low or that the cormorants have paid a visit?

Simpson Valley Skylark Lake

Out of sheer curiosity, I try a small lure again. It’s fairly bleeding obvious now that there are good numbers of trout in the lake because we’re finally catching them. The result? Not a single pull in the final hour, while the others continue to pick up the odd fish. The moral of the story is duly noted: unless you enjoy a dry net, the static buzzer is a must have plan B for your next tricky day out.

Further info: Top buzzer patterns and great value fly fishing at Simpson Valley, Devon

All the patterns used in this feature are available from Turrall stockists. Particularly deadly on this occasion were smaller flies, beaded patterns and our Holographic and UV buzzers, which blend lots of attraction with a lovely skinny profile. Try your local fly shop or shop online at retailers including  www.troutcatchers.co.uk and www.fliesonline.co.uk

Turrall UV buzzer
Set in a pretty woodland setting in North Devon, Simpson Valley has a welcome variety of coarse and fly fishing lakes. We fished Sky Lark, which offers excellent value at  £20 for a C&R ticket or just £10 for two fish at the time of writing. See www.simpsonvalleyfishery.co.uk for full details

 

 

 

 

River Fly Fishing Tips for Coloured Water

All winter, fly fishers tend to day dream about sunny, crystal clear rivers. But once the season arrives, the British climate can paint a very different picture. This month, fishing author Dominic Garnett reflects on some lessons to tackle rising or dropping rivers for trout:

“Like most other anglers, I am a sucker for the promise of the spring and summer months. It only takes a couple of pleasant, sunny days for me to dress in short sleeves and start thinking about rising fish and dry flies. But the truth is that for much of the season, especially in the spring, a better idea would be to focus the fly box and attention on how to fish in coloured water. This season has been no exception so far, with a dose of pragmatism often required! Here are some pointers for that tricky session when conditions won’t cooperate:

South Yeo Brown Trout Westcountry AnglingBrown from troubled water: A pale but pretty trout from a less-than-clear stream.

Water, beer or coffee?!

Exactly how coloured your chosen river is will have a crucial bearing on whether it is worth fishing. If it is totally muddy or coffee-coloured, forget it. “Stained” water, on the other hand, or that which is partially clouded is not always the kiss of death. Remember that even if you can only see a mere few inches beneath the surface, the fish are in their element and can still feed on fairly tiny prey in these conditions. But my usual attitude is not to get too disheartened too early. Be positive and you may be pleasantly surprised!

Location, location, location…

Another key factor in getting the best from your day when rivers are less than spot on is picking your location carefully. Rivers and streams in the high ground are almost always clearer than lowland waters because they get less run off from fields and roads. In my home region, the streams of Dartmoor and Exmoor are often a safer bet than those lower down, for example. Don’t be afraid to call the tackle shop or ask a local expert to see which spots are fishable!

Confluence, DevonA confluence: head upstream to find clearer water, or try the feeder stream itself!

Even on a single watercourse, however, water clarity can vary a great deal. One classic example of this is where side streams converge on the river. These streams themselves can often yield clearer water and the fish will move into them for shelter. Failing that, you’ll often find the main river less murky if you use your feet and travel upstream of inflows or run-offs that are colouring the water. Cutting out one or two of these confluences, you’ll quite regularly find clearer water than you dared hope for.

Best flies for fishing coloured rivers?

For obvious reasons, fish in coloured waters have a harder time picking out artificial flies. The mixed blessing is that they are also likely to be a bit less wary than usual. So in simple terms, you would often be well advised to pick flies that are slightly bigger than your standard patterns, or more colourful, or both! If you usually tackle up with a 16 or 18, pack some flies in the size 12 or 14 stamp. On  recent trips, my two standouts have been a Pink Shrimp in a size 16, or Chris Ogborne’s Barbless Shellback Nymph in a 12 (below).

River flies for coloured waterGo brighter or a little bigger to beat the murk.

Other winners include favourite nymphs such as the Copper John, dressed in brighter livery (Turrall produce these with a dash of red and chartreuse, for example). Last but not least, it is no sin to try casting streamers in such conditions; indeed, something large and mobile might just save you a blank or produce that bigger fish that wouldn’t budge for anything else.

Useful Indicators

For much of my stream fishing in Devon, I use the beautifully simple dry and nymph combo of the New Zealand method. But when the river level is higher and the fishing is iffy I have absolutely no qualms about switching to an indicator and nymph set up, simply because it’s far more efficient and versatile. You could use any indicator system- but our smaller Thingamabobbers are especially durable and handy for this style of fishing.

Strike indicatorsDon’t get me wrong, I love those days where a few risers will surprise you and defy the dodgy conditions. It’s just that when very little (or nothing whatsoever!) rises and you’re faced with deeper swims and the need for heavier flies, the indicator wins hands down. You can change depths instantly, for one thing. Nor is it “cheating” – and much of the time, high sticking or Czech Nymph type methods are not especially well suited to the cramped confines of our small West Country streams. Call me a heathen, but I actually want to catch fish, not demonstrate my purity as a fisherman.

What goes up…

Unless you’re fishing for migratory fish, anglers all too often tend to think of full and swollen rivers as a negative. But there are other, more positive twists. One is how much closer you can get to certain parts of the river that are usually tricky. With extra water and colour to hide your tracks, the angler can sometimes get closer to the fish with less risk of spooking. Some swims that were bordering on impossible just might produce now that you are less obvious to the fish! In several ways, this is the total opposite scenario to those low water summer days where you must make longer, riskier casts to avoid the fish spotting you.

Westcountry Angling Passport Dom GarnettDom Garnett chooses flies carefully on a rain-hit Devon stream

Rivers in a state of change can also provide opportunities in other ways. For example, if there has been an extended period of iffy weather and high water, the fish are likely to be hungrier than ever as the level drops and they suddenly find dinner easier to locate again. There is no shortcut to local experience and getting to know how quickly a particular river clears, but time it right and you might just enjoy a sensational days fishing.

Above all, be adventurous with your feet and fly selections. Don’t be put off, mix things up a little and you can still catch fish!”

Further Info: Dom was fishing on the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme, where wild fly fishing on the idyllic streams of Devon and Cornwall is available from just £6 per day. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS