Live session: Fly vs lure for pike!

Have you ever fished side by side with a friend to compare different approaches? It can be an interesting exercise to compare and contrast methods.

If we take fly and lure fishing, each has some distinct advantages over the other, especially where pike are concerned. While lures can be cast further and have more vibration, fly fishing for pike has its own distinct benefits.

Why this should be the case is down to several factors, not least of all the huge current popularity of lure fishing! Not only does a fly offer something very different, it also offers a much slower, subtler presentation for tricky days or fish that are not in attack mode.

The proof of the pike is in the catching, however, so this month we thought we would have a friendly fish-off between the two. Each of our anglers uses both methods, it’s fair to say. But for the sake of our day out, Ollie Jefferies chose to fish lures while Dom Garnett tried his favourite the fly approach. But who would prevail on a hard-fished Exeter Canal?

8:30 Dad duties have ruled out a crack of dawn raid for our duo, but conditions look reasonable. There’s a lovely mist on the water and a bit of breeze, while the water is reasonably clear with just a slight greenish tinge. Our anglers are hopeful anyway!

8:40 Straight into the action, Dom kicks off with a weighted silver tinsel fly from Turrall. The thinking is that this will get down fairly fast, allowing him to get down to mid-depth (and this canal is 12ft deep in the centre) in no time. A fast intermediate line will also help search these deep waters.

Turrall pike fly silver flasher
Turrall’s Silver Pike Flasher: a fast sinking fly that goes heavy on the tinsel!

Meanwhile, Ollie starts off by throwing a jointed swimbait. The key with so many canals and drains is to get your lure or fly to the right level, often just above the weed where predators can see it.

Both our anglers are taking no chances with tackle, with 40lb braid in Ollie’s case and 30lb fluorocarbon leader for Dom, besides wire traces. This means no risk with a bigger pike, besides more lures and flies safely retrieved from bushes and snags!

9:00 With no takes forthcoming, it’s a case of keep moving and casting. The lads cover water fairly quickly yet methodically. Rather than throwing for the distant far bank at 30 odd metres, a better policy is often to cast diagonally along the near bank. Pike especially love the “shelf” on each side, where at about two rodlengths out, the depth plummets from three to four feet to double that.

9:30 Ringing the changes always makes sense when piking. When the going is slow, Dom often switches to a black fly. Not only does this show up brilliantly from below, it’s also something a bit different purely because it’s a colour very few other anglers use.


Ollie, meanwhile, is also mixing up his options. A “Real Eel” certainly looks the part- and this canal has always had plenty of eels in it that pike must surely eat? It’s also refreshingly different to the usual brightly coloured shads and jointed plugs the pike see so often. Over to you, pike.

10:20 Well, it’s taken well over an hour, but finally the first fish is spotted. After changing flies and casting along the margin, Dom sees a fish of 2-3 lbs snake along after the fly. Frustratingly, it just won’t bite! Dom tries switching to a smaller fly, but it seems this fish is just curious rather than ravenous.

10:35 It’s Ollie’s time to get some attention now. There is a sharp rap on his rod tip as he brings the lure across the near shelf. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stick! Damn it…


10:45
In the next few minutes, two more pike are spotted. It’s curious that the jacks seem to bunch up in late winter- perhaps they are gathering to spawn in the next few weeks? Regardless of the reason, they seem willing to have a look at a lure or fly but just won’t open wide.

Another fish then literally noses the fly but doesn’t find the hook. While Dom has not always been a fan of stinger hooks or tandem flies (below) for pike, an exception might need to be made for these picky predators.

11:15 With the sun now high and the cloud clearing, conditions are looking tough. For the next hour or so, we see very few signs of life. That said, this is common for a big, deep canal. Unlike a shallow drain or narrowboat canal, you will only very rarely see fish jumping clear when a pike attack takes place. This can make finding the fish harder! We do spot a couple of big fish in the margins as the light increases, but unfortunately they’re not pike- one is a ghost carp of 10lbs plus!

12:30 After a quick bite to eat, it’s time for a rethink. Our anglers head towards Lime Kilns, along with some different lures and flies. Ollie decides to try a few casts with a topwater lure, while Dom switches to one of Turrall’s large tandem flies in black. There are definite days here when the fish are reluctant and you have to annoy them into taking or try something completely different.

13:05 Oooh! So close. The black fly is followed by a slightly better fish, this time 5-6lbs. The tail fibres of the fly are virtually tickling the predator’s nose on this occasion, but he just won’t inhale. They definitely seem to be curious rather than hungry today- all we can do is keep trying.

Slower retrieves are often the way when pike aren’t in feeding mode- and it’s also interesting to see that more lure anglers are now trying furred and feathered artificials. In fact, one really neat way to fish a fly using a lure rod is simply to attach one to a Cheb weight, as above. This way, any fly can be turned into a jig!

13:40 Another curious aspect of the fishing today is where most fish are found. While the margins can be good this time of year, it’s slightly further out that most following fish are found today. Whether a couple of frostly nights have sent them into deeper water, who can tell? A good general rule is that you’ll find smaller jacks all year in any marginal cover, but the real net-fillers of 8lbs plus tend to come from down the “shelf” at least 2-4 rodlengths out.

14:10 Success at last! Just when things looked really bleak and it seemed a no score draw would be the final outcome, everything changes. Shortly after changing to one of the biggest home-tied flies in his box, Dom manages to tempt a fish. Predictably, it hits the fly down the shelf, 3-4 rodlengths out. Initially, it thumps wildly, before revealing itself as merely a small pike with a bad temper! Never mind, it’s a blank saver.

15:00 As our anglers pack up, it has been a tough old day on what can be a tough venue. At this time of year, the fish have certainly seen a lot of lures and baits thrown at them!

In the next few weeks, of course, it will also be time to give the pike a break. How long can you fish for pike in spring is a debate in itself! Once the water is warmer, not only does the weed grow with a vengeance, Dom won’t fish the canals for pike much later than mid April (and obviously on rivers you must stop mid-March) on as a general rule, simply because it isn’t fair on the pike.

On the whole, it has been a tricky season with covid restrictions, but a few better fish have shown for our anglers. One definite trend for Dom has been the value of digging out the fly rod on hard-fished venues! In fact, he’s had five pike in the last three fly fishing trips, compared to zero in four sessions on bait. Proof, if it were needed, that fly fishing is not just an eccentric bit of fun but often the best way to fish for pike!

There are still some bigger pike out there, as this lockdown fish from Dom shows, and with increased angling pressure the fly is often the best way to tempt them!

Read more from our team…

Don’t forget to follow Turrall Flies on Facebook and keep an eye on the blog for further articles, news and more. In previous posts we’ve covered some great tactics for all kinds of flyfishing adventures, from static buzzer fishing for trout, through to tackling perch and chub on the fly in urban surroundings.

Live session: Stillwater pike fly fishing with Gary Pearson and Dom Garnett

As the cooler months kick in, many fly anglers will be turning their attentions to pike. For a real net-filler, big lakes have great potential but can be a daunting prospect! So how do the experts go about finding and catching the fish?

Rather than the usual “tips” article, we thought we would follow coarse fish on the fly fanatics Dom Garnett and Gary Pearson in a blow-by-blow session on a large stillwater.

08:30 Our session begins with tackle assembled and lifejackets donned. The water we are fishing is large and rarely fished for pike. In fact, there are only a few permits each year- so part of the battle is getting on the list and saving a boat. Not that an underfished water guarantees results!

Both anglers are tackling up with nine weights today. Tackle is robust to minimise any risks to the pike, with 30lb fluorocarbon leaders and wire traces. A whole variety of pike flies are taken, including some old favourites and new patterns that Turrall are looking at.

Turrall blog pike fishing tips
09:00 Hopes are high but the weather is diabolical on setting out! Our anglers are already getting soaked by the time they reach their first drift. On these larger lakes, drop offs are a prime area to try, and Gary knows a nice long bank section where shallow margins quickly drop away to 12-15ft of water. Ideal for a bite?

09:30 No bites are forthcoming as the lads try different lines and flies. With two anglers it pays to mix things up and compare notes. Gary has a di-3 line and a natural looking fly, while Dom has gone for a fast sink line and a big, glittery pattern.

10:15 At last, there’s a knock on the line and Dom gets a solid hit, right at the end of another drift. It’s only a small jack, but a good confidence booster. However, there’s no guarantee the bigger pike will be in such shallow water- quite often they are further out among shoals of bream and roach.

Jack pike fly fishing
10:45 With no further action on that side of the lake, a move is in order. At least the weather is brightening up a little too! Generally, the only reason to stay in one place is if you’re sure there are pike present, or you’re getting hits regularly.

Pike fly fishing how to
11:05 One interesting bit of watercraft today is studying water clarity. With heavy recent rains, water levels are well up. Also noticeable is how prevailing winds have blown a lot of sediment to one end of the lake. While this murky area doesn’t look great for fly fishing, there is a visibly clearer “band” of water just behind it that looks ideal for any hunting predator to dash in and out of.

11:10 Ooohh! So close. Gary has a near miss as a solid looking double charges his fly down right by the boat, but there is no hookup. Unlucky on this occasion. Even so, with another following fish shortly afterwards, it’s a clear sign that the lads should repeat the drift.

The fish seem to be a particular distance from the shore, but not in overly deep water here (10ft).  With this sort of depth, rapid sink lines can be a bit OTT, so Dom now switches to a fast intermediate- which leads to less weed and more bites.

11:45 The spot promises much, but there could be another factor in the amount of tugs we’re now getting: trout! Tellingly, a few minutes later, one of these leads to energetic resistance in the form of a rainbow trout. In any normal circumstances we’d be thrilled with a four-pounder. But on pike tackle, it’s not quite what we came for!

Trout on a pike fly
12:15 With only another jack pike to show for their efforts, it’s time to move on again. Along with local advice, it’s always good to trust your gut instinct and explore as much as possible.

Water depths are a point in case. While bigger pike tend to like deeper water, there are obvious exceptions- such as early or late in the day when they might be persuaded to come to the margins to hunt, or indeed late in the season when they gather up before spawning.  The moral of the tale is to be nosey and get local advice where you can- but also be prepared to follow your nose instead.

12:25 Gary has forgotten his lunch, so we’re hoping the pike will be as hungry as him in the next spot, up by a dam wall. This looks ideal- again we aim for the drop-off, but will search methodically, trying one drift on the “shelf” where the weed ends, followed by a drift farther out, where the water gets much deeper, to 15-20ft.

13:00 Success! It’s amazing what a change of time and location can do. In the space of mere minutes, we catch another two modest pike. Again, not proper “Reservoir Dogs” but very welcome.

Gary Pearson fly fishing Turrall Cortland UK

Does the colour of the pike fly matter? Do eyes make a difference? These are questions that always get debate started, but both our anglers think colour is important. Curiously, having tried a few patterns, it’s a big pink fly that is getting all the attention for Dom!

His theory is that pike don’t see many pink flies, because pike anglers tend to be too manly to cast something as pink as Barbie’s skirt! Joking aside, what a fantastic colour pink is for so many species- trout, grayling, roach… why not pike too?

Best flies for pike
13:15 Now that’s a bigger bend in the rod! Dom manages to hook a fish that feels like very little at first- but then suddenly decides it won’t cooperate once the pressure increases. This is a different stamp of fish altogether! With two anglers, it now becomes a case of teamwork. Gary brings the drogue in, while Dom is forced to switch sides as the fish goes on a steaming run. It’s moments like these that you’re grateful you weren’t stepping on any fly line!

Dom Garnett fly fishing for pike coarse fish
13:20
As hair-raising as a larger pike can be, we don’t want the fight to last all day. This is the benefit of using strong tackle- the angler has full confidence that they can lean into a fish if required and not be broken off. It’s soon subdued and cradled over an unhooking mat. At 14lbs it’s a fine fish. No record breaker, but just the sort of pike that makes these big waters appealing- on the local canal this might be a once-a-season encounter!  She is gently released with a minimum of fuss after a quick snap- these fish are fragile and demand respect.

14:00 The same drift, just a little further out, keeps producing bites. One very notable trend, however, is the depth the pike tend to hit. All day, our anglers have been counting down with different lines. Both of them settle on fast intermediate to mid sink lines in the end- even in 15ft or more of water, the bites come quite early, with no more than a six-second countdown. This suggests that the pike are either sat well off the bottom or more than happy to race up and nail a fly! Don’t always assume the pike are glued to the deck.
14:30 It’s great to keep getting bites, but apart from the odd fish that comes adrift, the size doesn’t grow bigger. This is partly why a solid 9 weight outfit is ideal for most of our piking; while it will easily subdue a big fish, there’s still sport to be had with the jacks. And let’s face it, even on the best pike waters, small, scrappy fish will heavily outnumber the giants. While it’s nice to dream then, we also want to get maximum sport with “normal” sized pike.


15:30 There are definite feeding spells at play on most pike waters, and so it shows today. The afternoon proves excellent for numbers of fish- although there are also now a lot of trout showing and even a big perch that comes from nowhere to grab a pike fly! Unfortunately, it misses the hook, leaving Dom and Gary to drool at how big it might have been.

15:40 It doesn’t seem to matter where we now try on the lake, there are bites to be had. Gary is next to get a good whack, only to see a lively trout attached where he hoped there would be a pike!

Pike fly fishing Blagdon
16:00 As our day draws to the close, it’s as if we’re on a different lake! What began as a blustery inland sea is now as tranquil as a mill pond. As nice as it is to be dry, it does few favours to the fishing. It’s almost impossible to get a decent drift going and the bites tail off.

On pretty much any pike water, this is often the case. Very bright, still conditions tend to be less productive. Whether they make human presence more obvious, or pike find it easier to hunt in low light and a good ripple, they are conspicuous by their absence for now.

Nevertheless, it has been an enjoyable day with around a dozen pike and that one lovely net-filler. And of course, if we can get back here for another visit some day, we’ll now know some productive areas to try. Naturally, with any water, experience will help you suss things out and it’s tough to get the best from just a quick hit. By keeping a diary and noting productive drifts, times and flies, you can get a bit of a head start- and even tough days will then help your longer-term success.

Top flies for pike…

We produce a great range of pike flies here at Turrall, which can be found from various retailers and online stockists. We’ll also be adding to our range shortly, with some excellent new flies on the way! Check out our blog archives for a guide to selecting the right fly for your next trip, along with further pike fly fishing tips!

Turrall best flies for pike Just some of the new patterns we’ve been testing with great success for pike! Keep an eye on Turrall stockists in the coming months.

Of course, you could also tie your own and we have just the materials to do it. Our tinsels and UV enhancers are loved by many of the top pike fly tyers in the business, while our durable, lightweight and eye-catching “Savage Hair” is one of the best value pike fly materials on the market at just £1.99 RRP per pack!

Here is the pattern Dom enjoyed the most success with on our day out:

PROUD BOY

Proud Boy pink pike fly
Hook:
Turrall Pike, 4/0
Thread: Black Kevlar
Body: White/ pink Savage Hair, plus light pink UV Enhancer and pearl Crystal Mirror Flash.
Cheeks (optional): Jungle cock
Eyes: 3D self-adhesive eyes, secured with epoxy resin.

Simple to tie and very effective, if you dare to get in touch with your pink side! Dom ties this pattern partially down the shank, which helps avoid the dressing spinning round the hook on the cast. The jungle cock is decadent for a pike fly to put it mildly- but why not? The bigger, split feathers that are a bit too large and messy for salmon flies are ideal. A hint of UV enhancer and tinsel is also a must.

Fishing Tips & Fly Patterns for Pike

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.

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Peak Hours

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.

Killer Retrieves

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.

pike_flies_turrall-9Fish on! This one took close to the bank, late in the retrieve.

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.

dsc_1810 John Deprieelle joins the morning shift on the Somerset Levels. Pike fishing here is all about mobility. 

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.

dsc_1653

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.

pike_flies_turrall-5
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.

pike_flies_turrall-2

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.

pike_flies_turrall-3
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.

pike_flies_turrall-4

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.

pike_flies_turrall-1

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

tangleswithpike_cover