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.

Autumn Fly Fishing

From late season trout to the coming pike season, autumn can be a great season for fly fishing. Dom Garnett sizes up some options for the coming weeks.

“Autumn has arrived quite suddenly, like a cool slap in the face this year. The falling leaves remind you that time is running short to catch on rivers that have been high and muddy for much of the season, while other species also come into play.

If you can find the time to get out, autumn can be the best fishing time in the whole year. There are still a few days left to catch wild trout, while the sea will stay warm enough to bring bass and other species or another month or so. And then we move on to freshwater predators like perch, pike and zander.

One last chance on for river trout

Fly fishing River Sid

For me, those last days of the trout season are as keenly anticipated as the first. You may only have a few precious hours to make the most of rivers that were unfishable in July or August; that’s the reality of the British climate.

So with the aim of one last crack at the traditional season, I took off to fish the River Sid, a little known stream with some pretty, modest sized trout. Planning can be everything on these short sessions. I’d seen the river in flood quite recently, but knowing it drains and clears quite quickly I knew it would be fine a couple of days later.

I think of autumn trout as hungry, less selective fish a lot of the time. They can feel that coldness coming on better than you can. It makes them greedy. With not quite as much hatching though, they can also be inactive, so I believe in getting their attention.

Bigger flies are worth a try for a late season binge.

There are some quite decent hatching flies on our rivers in September too. The hatches can be sporadic, but there are still some good sized sedge flies. I wouldn’t go too crazy on a small stream, but a fly like a size 14 Humpy or Elk Hair Caddis is perfect for fishing broken water. When fishing the boulder, fast bits, don’t be afraid to skate your fly a little either.

I had the best fish of the trip early, on a tumbling pool. It came up once, then again to look at the fly. On the next cast it looked again, so I gave the fly a twitch and that sealed it.

autumn trout dry fly fishing
Sadly that was about it for any hatches, although a couple of smaller fish threw themselves at the Humpy. After that, they just refused to rise so I tried the pools with a Universal Nymph, one of Chris Ogborne’s barbless flies for Turrall, which is a great pattern to tempt deeper lying fish.


Two more fish followed to the nymphs, before time called. Will I squeeze in one more session this month? Ultimately, the weather gods might have the last say. Otherwise, it’ll be time for something completely different…

Tackling up for pike on the fly

 
Of course, while some of lament the passing of summer, other freaks among us rub their hands together at the prospect of a new pike season. It’s devilishly exciting if you can find clear water and watch the fish, so I tend to launch my campaign on close-quarters venues such as the drains of the Somerset Levels.

Of course many of the best pike fishing waters are quite small here, so you needn’t use shark tackle. Something like an eight-weight is perfect, coupled with 20lb fluorocarbon leader and (always!) a strong wire trace.

Smaller pike flies are great fun for these waters, and smaller patterns like my purpose made bite-sized pike flies (below)  but you can also try for perch (Turrall sell patterns for both).


It’s a very different type of fly fishing, but addictively exciting. For further tips and inspiration, do check out my previous blog on pike fly fishing.

Autumn on the stillwaters

Of course, just because the trout streams might be out soon, it doesn’t mean other waters are done and dusted. If anything, the fishing tends to get better in the autumn, across stillwaters large and small.


We’re blessed with various places to try here in Devon, although there are not many fly fisheries near Exeter. Two well worth a drive for me are Bratton Water in North Devon, and Bellbrook Valley near Tiverton (above).

Bratton has a cracking head of brown trout and a good hatch of sedge flies as late as early November (yes, it sounds nuts but I’ve seen it), and will respond to flies like a CDC Sedge. Bellbrook Valley is always worth a go with small dries and emergers, even on mild winter days, and flies such as Griffith’s Gnat and Gary Pearson’s Two Tone Emerger (below). And if they refuse to come up, it’s always delightful to drift a buzzer or two.


Wherever you go fly fishing next, good luck and enjoy the outdoors this autumn. If you want to read more current news and features, do also check out our Facebook page and Total Flyfisher Magazine each month, where we run a special monthly fly tying challenge.