The time for teeth and a killer-attitude is upon us!
Pike season opens in most of southern Alberta on May 8th and for those of you who want to get started or hone your big-fish skills here are some tips to help.
Location: Basically all prairie reservoirs and rivers in Southern Alberta contain northern pike and many contain walleye. Many of the smaller lakes that are connected by creeks to these reservoirs also hold pike. Not all places have “trophy” sized pike though. Some of the most popular areas to fly fish for pike include Bow River, McGregor, Crawling Valley, Travers, Little Bow, Clear, Twin, Badger, and Newell. You can use the Southern Alberta Backroads Mapbook to help you plan trips. Some of these places have pike well over 25 pounds and 45."
If you're wanting to chase pike we suggest you decide what type of pike fishing you want to try- trophy pike fishing versus “just trying to catch a pike on a fly” without having to expand your trout arsenal
Gear: Here's the "I just want to try pike fishing" set up:
- Rod/Reel: 5 to 7wt (think your Bow river or lake fishing streamer set up) length 9-10’
- Line: Floating will be your most useful however a medium-to-fast sink tip can also be very helpful
- Leader/Tippet: This is where things deviate from trout fishing.... You can keep this very simple by using a 20-25 pound straight piece of maxima 3-7 feet long (short if using sinking line - longer if using a floating). If you use straight mono understand that you can get “bit off” even by a “smaller” pike. We generally recommend wire - that way if you happen to get a larger unexpected pike to eat your fly you have a better chance at landing them.
This is what the wire leader setup looks like:
- Mono Butt Section: 20-25 Pound Maxima 2-6’
- Swivel: P-Line #5 70lb rolling barrel or equivalent
- Tippet: Rio Bite Wire 20-30 lb 18”
- Or Rio pike leader if you don’t want to build your own
Here's what your "I want to try to catch a trophy pike" setup should look like:
- Rod/Reel: 8wt to 10wt 9’ (also doubles as a salmon or tropical saltwater rod)
- Floating (Airflo Bass/Musky), Rio Elite Predator or SA Titan are all designed to cast large bulky flies.
- Sinking: Rio Predator or Big Nasty. SA Sonar Titan Sink Tip for when you need to work 5 to 15’ of water
- Mono Butt Section: 30/25 Maxima 2-6’ depending on floating (6’) vs sinking (2’)
- Pline 70lb Swivel or equivalent
- Tippet 20-30lb Rio Bite Wire 18”
Flies: Range significantly in size and bulk but these are some favorites (Len's Killa' Pike Bunny, Half & Half, Musky Mash, CJ Big Johnson, Ghetto Tramp, Fish Skull Deceiver, El Dorado Deceiver, Atler's Pike Slider)
Luckily there is reasonable-to-excellent pike fishing available from shore as pike concentrate in shallower water in the spring. A watercraft of some type does help significantly because it will allow you to cover more water quickly.
For those who like to use trailered boats please check very carefully to ensure the respective reservoir's boat launch is open. The vast majority of pike reservoirs fall in the EID. Here is a link to their website (go to the recreation tab). Please pay particular attention to the invasive species procedures, requirements for boat access, and possible boat launch closures as the season opener approaches.
Pike look for the warmest water in the spring which makes a thermometer extremely valuable to have. The shallow dark bottom bays that face south are the first to warm. Pike prefer and get aggressive with water temperatures in the 55-65F (12 - 19C). The shallow water can be several degrees warmer than the main lake in the early part of pike season and it is that difference you
are looking for. Warm water sits on the surface so the right amount of wind can stack the warm water in specific places.
There is very limited sight fishing in southern Alberta, but if you happen to be lucky enough to be heading north to clear northern waters than sight-fishing is the most exciting way to fish for pike with a fly rod. When you can’t see the pike, work water with a steady medium speed retrieve and then try speeding it up if you get a follow. There are lots of variation in pike techniques so you
have to play around to find out what triggers the fish on any specific day. For surface “mice’ or popper-style fishing generally it needs to be calmer conditions particularly in the evening and you can have an absolute blast with pike pouncing on your mouse. Many times pike will erupt beside your fly to take it on the way back into the water. This means you don’t set the hook until you feel the “pull!" Strip striking is super important.
The large (over 35”) pike are all females. Please treat them with the respect they deserve and handle them carefully (don’t hold them vertically) to ensure there are large pike for other anglers to enjoy in the future. Long pliers are important!
Get out there and enjoy northern pike fishing as it is one of your best chances to catch a fish in Alberta over 20 pounds on a fly rod.
The fish in the above image (and the header image) is a Bow river fish.