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Part One hundred sixty-two

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Adversary Pike

By Capt. Hugh Smith Gulf Breeze, Florida


For Patton it was Rommel; for Ali, Fraiser. Sherlock Holmes had his Morieriety. In many ways adversaries define our effort. Sure, it's a stretch to think of flyfishing as art imitating life. Especially when your adversary is a northern pike. But if we were to really consider the ESOX as a worthy adversary, what would it take?

Obviously, a worthy flyfishing adversary should readily take a fly. Readily would qualify as serious understatement for pike…how about voraciously? They should live in pristine, wild environs…like one's you fly in to…with wild moose swimming the lake. They should fight well…a small runaway freight train comes to mind.

If you ever look in the cockpit of an American Airlines B-777, you might see Marc Batway. In a previous life Marc and I flew meaner looking jets in far away places. In addition to flying the triple-seven, he's the architect, builder and host of a pretty spiffy deer camp (maybe an even better grouse camp) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And he and his Dad run a camp in central Michigan guiding for the limited Michigan elk hunt. He was the orchestrator of this year's venture north for pike just after ice-out. He put together a compatible group of reprobates, made all the arrangements, even succeeded in scheduling some beautiful weather.

Log Cabin Our trip began at the "Propwash," Marc's aforementioned deer camp. A day's drive north from the UP, through Sault Saint Marie to Hornepayne, Ontario we boarded DeHaviland L-20 "Beavers" on floats for the flight into Little Caby lake and a hand hewn log cabin…our home and headquarters for the next week.

It was the 16th of April and the last of the ice had given up only two weeks before. Just a few days before our arrival it had snowed enough to cover the ground and delay the inevitable mosquito and black fly hatch. No bugs for almost a week in springtime Canada was a piece of luck you can't count on. At least as grateful for this brief respite from clouds of bugs were quite a number of moose. They're much faster swimmers than your average old dude from north Florida would think.

Flights of migrating waterfowl joined us at Caby, the "wash" from their wings audible from more than a mile away as they completed steep, fast decent from the high altitude structure of migration. Loons that I might have watched fishing Pensacola Bay just a few weeks before were pairing up at Caby, singing to each other, giving us the evening serenade no trip to Canada is complete without. After dark, and once the aurora borealis calmed down, we studied a night sky with the North Star much higher than we're used to.

Marc Batway and dandy pike

In this explosion of life that follows the darkness and bitter cold of an Ontario winter the piscatorial residents are not exempt. The northern pike make their move from deep water to the shallows of the northernmost coves as the water warms. They end up on the first small drop in depth of these coves that will soon choke with reeds and grass. We think they're looking for love but we know they're hungry. Ravenous comes to mind. Not much is very subtle about these barracudas of the north at this time of the year.

I had tied up some pretty nondescript streamers in red/yellow, red/white/, and white/yellow synthetics. Synthetics last a little longer than natural materials after a few attacks from these toothy critters. These streamers were four to six inches long and I tied them on 1/0 hooks. Sparse ties were easier to cast but I couldn't prove the fish cared one iota. Most of the streamers included a loop of 20-pound hard Mason to make them weedless. I also had a few large (1/0) popping bugs crafted of foam and synthetics. All my poppers were destroyed by the second evening. (Note to self: bring more poppers next year.) The new "knotable" BON wire leader material in twenty to thirty pound test turned out to be very bueno. Four to six inches of it with a Homer Rhodes loop knot to the fly and a perfection loop to three feet of twenty "four-turn blood knotted" to six feet of thirty worked just fine. These guys are not leader shy. But man are they toothy! At the end of the week my hands were a mess.

The preferred technique seemed to be, "See a fish, cast the fly where the fish could see it, make two or three hard strips, then just hang on." Most of the time sight fishing was the order, and the strike was almost always visible, but sometimes a hungry intruder would grab the offering from right in front of the target. With the poppers the pike sometimes launched into the air to come down on top of a gurgling offering; sometimes they came up from below the popper and a good strip-set would turn them half a somersault. Usually a large wake would just appear headed toward the popper, and then a two-foot hole would open in the surface of the water. Even 15-pound specimens don't often get to your backing but they jump, run very fast for short distances and are still making 30 foot runs after ten minutes. They throw water, weeds, and mud in every direction and they always look so very angry!

Author Hugh putting one back We brought eight weight outfits on this trip. These, quite frankly left us on the borderline of "under-gunned." The eights were fine for five to eight pounders but when one of those ten to 15 pound guys loaded up, you were wishing you had a bigger rod. Next year I'm bringing ten weights as well. A mid-flex nine weight might be best if you only bring one size. Weight forward floating lines worked very well, though we didn't try any dredging in deep water. We found it better to fish for walleyes or just hang around camp most days until the sun got on the water. And the catch for a day that it rained all day long was significantly lighter. (Walleye for the larder is not a bad diversion.)

In retrospect, I'm thinkin' you'd be hard pressed to find an adversary that took you to more beautiful surroundings then challenged your skill and rewarded hard work any more. As for me, I'll take ice-out pike fishing any day.

Getting there:

Olivier's Fly-In Camps, Hornepayne, Ontario, Canada, operates quite a number of fly-in camps that vary from rustic to the "American Plan." Their year around number is 800-868-2337. Olivier's uses Horne Air as their charter service.

Flies:

Pike Flies
    Hook:  1/0 VARIVAS 990 Carbon or substitute (3407s work fine).

    Thread:  Flat waxed nylon, red or orange.

    Weed guard:  20# Hard Mason mono.

    Wing:  A mix of White or Yellow Kinky Hair and silver or gold Flashabou.

    Collar: : Red Kinky hair.
    ~ Hugh Smith


About Hugh:

Captain Hugh "Unk" Smith is a USCG Licensed Captain and fly-fishing guide from Gulf Breeze, Florida. He has fished Florida salt with a flyrod for more than 40 years, but occasionally can be found further north. He's a member of CCA, FFF, and the IGFA. He can be reached at 850-936-1867 or e-mail him at: UnkSmith@aol.com.

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