Can I use my trout rod for pike fly fishing?
If you're only casting moderately small flies, up to three or four inches, and you're fishing in waters that hold mainly smaller jack pike, a seven or eight weight rod might suffice to let you sample what pike fly fishing has to offer.
However, not only will you find it difficult to fish with a lighter rod, as they're not so good for casting bulky flies, you may also tire out pike and struggle to net them fast enough, which isn't good for their welfare.
It's far more sensible to buy a dedicated pike fly fishing rod and use this instead. While there are a few models on the market, such as those from Guideline, Vision, Piketrek and SKB which are marketed specifically as pike fly fishing rods, most pike fly rods are not advertised as such, they're just heavyweight fly rods that happen to be suitable for casting pike flies.
What sort of pike fly rod do you recommend?
In terms of specification, I'd personally opt for a 9' 10 weight pike fly rod. I started out with a 10' 9 weight and much prefer the shorter, more powerful 9' 10 weight, as it handles bigger flies and bigger pike better. There does seem to be a trend among pike fly anglers for shorter, sturdier rods at the moment.
My current rod of choice for pike fly fishing is a Temple Fork Outfitters Ticr in 9' 10 weight. It's a great rod. It's great quality, it looks good, it's nice to cast, doesn't feel too heavy or make my spindly arms ache and it handles surprisingly big flies with ease.
Which pike fly line should I choose?
The fly line is one of the most important considerations for pike fly fishing and picking the right one will really help you cast flies that are the equivalent of a wet budgie.
While you could just use a standard 9 or 10 weight line to match your rod's line rating, you'll find a proper pike fly line works a hell of a lot better, so investing in a good line is worthwhile.
In terms of the taper, you'll want to pick a fly line that's got a weight forward taper with a short head. This is what helps you turn over big flies more easily and lets you make short casts more easily than a line with a longer head.
The Rio Outbound Short fly line is very popular with pike fly anglers for these reasons. The head weight is much higher than the typical head weight for an AFTM 10, which helps turnover massively. Airflo's 40 Plus Sniper fly lines, and Guideline's Pike Series fly lines are similar to the Rio and also work very well with pike flies. All cost £45-60.
If you're on a lower budget, try SKB's Dogfly line which performs similarly and costs around £35. If funds are really limited, the John Norris Pro 2 Big Fly lines are not bad and they're almost a quarter of the price of the Rio at just £13 each.
The Piketrek Aerosnake lines are also said to be good budget pike fly lines for around £25, and they offer others that are cheaper than the John Norris lines. Some cheaper pike fly lines (such as Piketrek's Aerosnake quick loading lines) need to be overlined, so you'd choose an 11 weight line for a 10 weight rod. Check before you buy.
My personal recommendation, however, would be one of the new Barrio Predator fly lines. These came out in late 2017 and are designed for casting big pike flies with ease. They're superb quality and turn over pike flies really well. They're available in both floating and intermediate tip versions and are an absolute bargain at just £39 each.
Will I need a floater or a sinker?
It depends where you're fishing. A floating line is the most widely used type, as most pike fishing is done in shallow water. These should be fine for water up to about 6-8 feet deep.
If you're fishing deeper water, you might want to consider an intermediate or Di3 sinking fly line instead. These lines will get your fly down a bit deeper if you countdown for a few seconds, and they'll let you retrieve the fly at the same depth.
If you're pike fly fishing from a boat, you'll probably be better off with a Di3 pike fly line to help get your flies in the zone, unless you're only fishing the shallows. In terms of pure versatility, I'd personally go for the intermediate if I was only buying the one pike fly line.
What fly reel will I need for pike fly fishing?
As you're using a heavier, thicker fly line with a bulky head, you'll need a much bigger reel than usual. A 10wt pike fly line needs a 10-12wt fly reel to accommodate it comfortably with 100m of backing.
As they're bigger, you should expect to pay £70-100 for a basic model or more if you fancy something with a bit more bling. The Vision Deep fly reel in 9/10 or 11/12 is a good bet for £60-70.
The Loop Xact fly reel is also good for pike fly fishing. It's a composite reel so is extremely robust and is fitted with Loop's brilliant drag system. I use the 8-12 weight model on my TFO Ticr pike fly rod and it works really well.
Do I need a fly reel with a good drag?
Yes, it's worth finding a reel with a decent drag. Pike tend not to go on long runs, as trout sometimes do, but they're powerful and run quickly and many pike fly anglers play them on the reel.
Whereas trout are usually stripped in by hand, with the reel just used for line storage, it's far easier to play big pike on the reel so pick one that has a good drag system with a knob you can adjust with ease.
What leader will I need?
As you'll be using a big fly you'll need to use a shorter leader, say 4 feet long, to allow it to turn over. The butt section of this that you attach to the tip of the fly line should be made from thick, strong monofilament or fluorocarbon line, say 20-40 lb breaking strain to help it turnover.
Ideally, you want something that doesn't have much memory and something that's not too limp or thin, otherwise the presentation will suffer and your fly will land in a heap, instead of in front of your fly line.
The end of your nylon leader needs to be attached to a wire leader or wire trace, as pike have sharp teeth. I tie my main leader to the wire leader using a grinner or uni knot and it's never let me down, but if you're making your own wire leaders you can use a loop-to-loop connection too.Niklaus Bauer has a very clever way of creating pike fly leaders.
Is a wire trace essential when pike fly fishing?
Pike can cut through fluorocarbon, even the really thick stuff, so in general it's safer for the pike to use wire. Whether you're using wire or fluorocarbon for your leader, you should check it regularly for signs of damage and replace it when worn. If you want to use fluorocarbon, here's how you can make your own leaders for pike fly fishing.
What sort of wire leader should I use?
While you can use pretty much any kind of standard wire used for making wire pike leaders, one brand stands out as being especially popular with pike fly anglers - Authanic. Authanic wire is soft and flexible, just as resistant to pike teeth as other wires, and lasts a good few fish before it requires replacing.
It's generally recommended that your wire leader should be a minimum of 30cm in length, just in case a large pike engulfs your fly and abrades the line above the leader.
I attach a large Riverge tippet ring to the top end of my wire pike leaders and then tie them to the main line. On the bottom end I use a Savage Gear snap link as it doesn't add too much weight and makes changing flies very quick and easy.
If you don't want to make your own wire leader, you can buy pre-made leaders such as the Airflo Titanium Predator Leader for about £12. This particular leader includes both the wire bit and a polyleader, so all you need to do is attach it to the loop on your fly line and you're ready to roll.
Should I use a barbless hook?
I would. Not only is it easier to unhook any fish you catch (the hook will usually come out in the net or wiggle free if you chin the fish) it's also safer for you.
Pike flies are big and hard to cast, so you definitely wouldn't want to get one stuck in any part of your body. Using a barbless hook at least means you won't need a trip to casualty if it does impale you.
What will I need for landing and unhooking pike?
Extra large landing net
Although many experienced pike fly anglers will chin their pike instead of using a landing net, unless you're confident and the fish is moderately small you shouldn't attempt this. Instead, use an extra large landing net.
An oversized net is sensible since there's a chance you could hook up to a hefty fish well over a metre in length. This won't fit in a standard trout net. The Savage Gear Folding Rubber Mesh Net is a good choice. If you want something really fancy with built in scales, the McLean Sea Trout and Specimen Weigh Net is a superb bit of kit.
Large unhooking mat
Fly anglers tend not to use unhooking mats but they're useful for pike fly anglers, and are arguably essential when fishing from the bank. Pike are sensitive and easily damaged, so don't let them thrash around on the ground - put them on a comfy unhooking mat and keep them safe. The Savage Gear Unhooking Mat is excellent and large enough for even the biggest crocs.
Pike are rather toothy so you'll not want to put your fingers inside their mouths to retrieve your fly if it's been engulfed. Instead, you should use a pair of forceps. I rather like my Savage Gear Pistol Deep Throat Hook Out Tool for this. It's got a neat trigger grip which is excellent and gives a much firmer grip than I can get with standard forceps.
Wirecutters aren't quite so important in pike fly fishing as they are in lure fishing for pike, since there's only one hook with a single point. However, it's worth carrying a pair with you in case you ever need to cut a hook out or cut the wire. Greys Prowla Side Cutters are good, but keep them oiled to minimise rust.
What other pike fly fishing kit will I need?
Pike fly box
Pike flies are big, bulky and often cost several pounds each, so you'll want to look after them to ensure you get the maximum use from them. I store mine in a big fly wallet, but there are also a number of very good extra large fly boxes on the market that arguably do a better job than mine.
A stripping guard is a rubber sleeve that slides over the index finger of your right hand and protects it from getting sore when constantly stripping fly line through it. Using one will keep your digit in better shape.
A line tray or stripping basket is handy for keeping line in control and away from your feet, especially if you're fishing in weedy or reedy areas where the fly line can tangle. Line trays range in style from collapsible mesh ones, like the Wychwood Line Tray, to rigid plastic ones. Vision's line tray looks particularly good.