Our Man In Canada
April 12th, 1999

Fly-fishing for Prairie Pike


By Clive Schaupmeyer

This the first of a series of five articles about fly-fishing for pike. The articles include: introduction; equipment and rigging; flies and other gear; when and where; and techniques.

Pursuing plucky prairie pike with flies is a fly-fishing bonus. It is a practical remedy–and blessing–for many of us who want to fly-fish often, but do not live close to trout streams. Our prairie lakes and reservoirs may not have the allure of mountain streams or pristine northern lakes, and there may not be quite as many pike–or as many big pike–as up North. But the waters are close, the action can be hot, and many prairie waters contain trophy pike.

If you live anywhere in Canada where there are pike, and have yet to try them with fly gear, you are in for a treat. They can be electrifying on a fly rod, especially in the spring when their metabolism and fighting spirit are at their peak. Or, if you've been thinking of flying to a northern lodge for early season pike action, then wait no longer!

Pike readily take flies and are rough-and-tumble fighters. Battles are usually down and dirty, and big fish can be difficult to land. They'll make short line-hauling runs, often spinning a float-tube and angler. Seeking refuge in deeper water or weed beds, pike pull doggedly and double over the strongest of fly rods.

Clive and 'small' one

My passion for fly-fishing began years ago when I started chasing trout in streams. But I live in Brooks, Alberta–a genuine prairie town–and it's a two-to three-hour drive to my favorite mountain and foothills streams. However, several reservoirs containing pike are within 20 minutes of town, so friends and I can fly-fish after supper on warm spring evenings. Or, we can do yard chores and attend to family duties on weekends, and still get out fly-fishing for a few hours. Thus, we can be socially responsible and fly-fish all we want.

A few days later I was standing in the bay casting gaudy flies to sex-crazed pike. In the first two or three years a few pike were caught in that bay, but the inlet has since grown in with cattails so they no longer spawn there. I've also learned that trying to attract pike in the throes of courtship is not as productive as waiting for the post-spawn action.

Each May and June, friends and I spend many days in our pontoon boats or float tubes on local reservoirs catching lots of feisty two-to five-pound pike. Six-to 10-pounders are not uncommon, and each year a few trophies are caught. (These trophies are caught by my friends, as I seem to be forever hexed against catching a real wall-hanger pike over 20 pounds.)

In addition to being closer to home, there are other practical reasons to fly-fish for pike. The early season pike frenzy coincides with spring runoff in many of our foothill and mountain trout streams; some trout streams don't legally open for fishing until mid June; and pike waters are still relatively uncrowded compared to many trout streams.

Pike (Esox lucius) are native to the northern hemisphere, ranging from the northern United States through most of Canada and Alaska, Europe and Asia. Pike live in lakes and in slow, meandering streams and rivers throughout a large part of Canada, but not in Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland and all but northern British Columbia.

Pike in southern Alberta typically range from two to 10 pounds, with the majority between two and five pounds. Females of 36 to 45 inches (or more), weighing from 10 to 30 pounds, are occasionally brought to hand. Ken Zorn, holds the local fly-fishing pike record at 43 inches. My personal best is 38 inches.

I've fly-fished in northern Alberta where the average size of pike is larger than our pike in the South, ranging from five to 10 pounds–the majority being six to eight pounds–and many over 10 pounds. And more secluded lakes in northern parts of the Prairie Provinces typically produce higher numbers of trophy pike over 20 pounds. The record weight in Manitoba is 42 pounds, it's 43 pounds in Saskatchewan, and 38 pounds in Alberta. There are some big pike out there, folks–and they eat big flies.

Pike are piscivorous (fish eating), aggressively attacking and consuming any fish smaller than themselves, including other pike. Large streamers that imitate the colour and action of resident baitfish will catch pike, although it's not always clear what some pike flies are actually supposed to represent. Possibly the gaudy flies imitate young whitefish, but more likely pike attack because they are opportunistic feeders that can be lured by anything flashy, or by anything that remotely resembles a meal. I've caught 10-inch pike that attacked five-inch streamers. Not something I like to talk about, but it illustrates how fierce these finny critters can be no matter what their size. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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