Our Man In Canada
May 3rd, 1999

Fly-fishing for Prairie Pike, Part 4

When and where to catch pike

By Clive Schaupmeyer

This the fourth 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.

Pike can be caught on a fly rod any time the water is free of ice. Generally they are slow to bite during the spring breeding season (just after ice out), then start feeding heavily right after the spawn. They seem to slow down again as the water warms. The action varies with the season, but pike can be caught for six or seven months of the year in most parts of Canada.

Pike move into ice-free shallow bays while the main part of a lake is still frozen. They swirl and twist (in breeding mode) when there is still floor ice in the bays and the water is ice cold. I've caught a few pike during the height of the breeding season–but damn few. Streamers can be stripped right in front of pike floating on the surface, but when they have sex on their pea-sized brains they just aren't interested in eating.

By mid to late April, anglers around here start grumbling about the pike being off–forgetting it's the same every year. We've gone out once or twice and caught one pike–or none at all. We keep grumbling. Then at the end of one sunny day in early May, my phone will ring in the evening. It will be K.K., and the news will be: The pike fishing is hot! (Kiyoshi, a.k.a. K.K., will have spent the afternoon catching pike.)

Jeff Field and finny friend

In southern Alberta the best pike action is in May through early June, but they can be caught all summer as well. I've fished for pike in northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan a couple of times–once in early June and once in mid July. The action was great in early June, just two weeks after ice out. We caught our share of pike in July as well, but the lodge owner said we had missed the peak feeding season.

Within the time window when pike fishing is generally hot, there will be ups and downs in the action as pike moods change. Around here the pike are most active (read, easiest to catch) during clear-sky, high-pressure weather systems. Warm and sunny. Sure, they are catchable on cold, blustery spring days, but the catch rates fall off drastically.

Where are pike likely to be? Pike are ambush feeders and live near, on, over, beside or withinsomething like a weed bed, drop-off, reef, shallow bay or stream flow. Most often they will be caught where there is some noticeable structure or a change in water condition, such as clarity, temperature or current. Food organisms that attract baitfish–which attract pike–live in weed beds or may be carried in a slow current near an inlet or outlet. When prairie winds roil the water in shallow bays, pike will hold just inside or outside the murky water waiting for a meal to cruise by.

Pike habitat

Where would you hide if you were a hungry pike waiting to ambush a meal?

Quietly kick your float tube near an island or point, cast to the shallow water, then control your retrieve so the fly drops down as the water gets deeper. Or cast parallel to the drop-off and retrieve at various depths. Hold over a shallow bar or weed bed and cast out to deeper water, retrieving your fly so it travels up the slope or beside the weeds. Cast a gaudy streamer into small open pockets along the edge of a weed bed. Try casting into flowing water that could carry food, or might be warmer or cooler than the surrounding water. If the water has clear and murky sections, cast into or alongside the cloudy water and retrieve your fly into or along the edge of the clear water.

Next week: Retrieval techniques and releasing pike. ~ 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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