Pike fishing is heating up again throughout the Black Hills and surrounding area! This is a great time of year to be out chasing pike on a fly rod – they’re pretty shallow, aggressive, and the big fish are definitely looking to pack on a few pounds before winter sets in. That being said, the fish in the fall act quite a bit different than they do in the spring. Most of the fall pike you’re going to find are more focused on structure and ambushing food, rather than laying up in the shallows near the areas where they’ll eventually spawn at. Here’s a few tricks and equipment recommendations that will help you bring more pike to hand in the fall!
Rods for pike fishing need to be stiff enough and powerful enough to fish heavy shooting head style lines, as well as fight fish that can reach twenty pounds or more. The more we fish pike, the heavier rods we like. A 9 weight is probably the most useful size, but rods from 8-10 weight will work. There’s a lot of good options on the market, and many of them are relatively inexpensive. We like the Echo ION XL, Redington Predator, and Scott Tidal a lot, as well as the Sage Pike/Musky series of rods. As far as reels go, you’re fishing such heavy leaders that you don’t need to worry about having a silky smooth drag. My two stipulations on a pike reel are that the reel has to be big enough to hold the bulky lines and have a large enough arbor to retrieve line quickly on a fast moving fish, and has to have a drag that can put a significant amount of pressure on a big fish. A couple great inexpensive options are the Echo ION and Redington Behemoth. If you want a nicer machined reel, the Redington Rise is hard to beat. Whatever your choice in reel is, definitely have an extra spool or two to hold different densities of sinking line.
Getting your fly in front of the fish and keeping it there is probably the single most important facet of pike fishing with a fly rod, so having the right density of sinking line is important. Intermediate and Type 3 lines are the most common lines used, but floating lines and heavier sink lines have their place in the right situations. The majority of the fish locally are going to be in water that’s 4-12 feet deep right now, so just match the line to whatever depth you’re fishing. An intermediate line will get you down roughly 2-6 feet, and a type 3 line can get you 4-10 feet or so. Any line will get deep enough if you simply let it sink long enough, but won’t keep your flies down in the zone where the fish are. The biggest advantage of a good sinking line is that it keeps your fly down in front of the fish for the maximum amount of time. We’re big fans of the RIO Outbound series of fly lines, and we’ve been really impressed with the Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan series of line as well!
Leaders for pike are pretty straightforward, but most folks are pretty opinionated on the wire vs. fluorocarbon debate. I fish primarily fluoro, mostly because I feel more confident in it from a visibility and fly movement aspect. I have had a few folks lose fish because they bit through the bite tippet, but I feel like I get more strikes than I would when fishing wire. I would say water clarity is the single most important factor in choosing which route you want to go. Whichever you choose, fish it confidently. If you’re going to use fluorocarbon, we’ve had good luck with both RIO Saltwater Fluorocarbon and Scientific Anglers Fluorocarbon in 80 pound test. If you prefer to not risk a fish biting through your bite tippet and want to go with wire, RIO Wire Bite Tippet is perfect – you can fish either 20 or 30 pound depending on how large the fish you anticipate to encounter are. Both of those options are for folks that want to build their own leaders, which is pretty straightforward. I use 30 pound Saltwater Mono or Maxima for a butt section, and then Albright Knot your bite tippet onto the end of that. As far as leader length goes, I fish anywhere from 9′ down to 4′. Essentially, the heavier your sinking line is the shorter you want to keep your leader, because it keeps your flies down rather than letting them ride higher in the water column. On a floating or intermediate line, keeping your flies deep is not too much of a concern so you can fish a longer leader. If you don’t want to monkey with any of this and just want to buy a leader, the RIO Toothy Critter Leaders or Scientific Anglers Toothy Stealth Leaders will work great!
As far as flies go, if you ask 10 different pike anglers what the best color/size/shape is, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. When I go pike fishing, I’m always changing. If I fish a good piece of water where I either see fish or have a pretty good idea there’s some fish around and don’t get any follows or strikes, I’ll fish back through it again with a different color or size of fly. Oftentimes even if you catch a fish or two out of a spot, you can fish back through it with a different pattern and pick up another fish or two. Small flies have their place in pike fishing, but I think that you’re going to move more fish – especially big ones – on flies that are in the 6-10″ range. I seldom use hooks smaller than a 3/0, and the average pike fly I fish is probably 7-8″ long. You’ll be surprised how small of fish will eat flies that size – we frequently hook 16-20″ big on flies that big. I’ve seen big fish that won’t move for a small fly, but rocket after a fly with a little more heft to it. There’s many different styles of flies that will work – EP Baitfish, Piketola Minnows, Gator Dones, Jared’s Outlaw, LapDancers, and the good ol’ Barry’s Pike fly will all move fish. I like flies that have a good profile without being bulky and hard to cast. The biggest thing is having a variety of colors and sizes, and not being afraid to change flies if you’re fishing good water without much luck.
Many of the local lakes where people chase pike are pretty sizeable, so it’s often intimidating to try and figure out where to start. If you’re fishing in a trout stream, you’re always looking for some sort of change to locate fish – a current seam, depth change, etc. Pike are really no different, you just have to envision where the changes might be sometimes. Any kind of structure usually holds fish. Weedbeds, drop offs, rock piles, and sudden depth changes are all good places to look for fish. I typically will start with a shallower line/fly, and work my way deeper if that doesn’t get any action. On clearer lakes like Pactola, you can usually see the structure and oftentimes the fish. If you’re fishing lakes where the clarity isn’t as good, oftentimes looking at a topographic map of the lake contours will help you know where to start looking. Most of the fish in the fall will be in 5-10′ of water, give or take a few feet either direction.
We’ve had good fishing and good reports from a number of area lakes – Pactola, Stockade, Sheridan, Owen, Gardiner, and Keyhole are all good places to go start looking. Sheridan lake is a good bet for numbers, especially if you’re not concerned with catching any monsters. There’s some big ones around, but the majority of the fish are willing 20-28″ fish. Big enough to be a lot of fun on a fly rod! Pactola has been considerably better this fall than it was this spring. Most folks that are heading up there are finding some fish, as well as having some shots at some big ones. Again, any ledges or drop offs – especially ones with weeds – will hold fish. Don’t hesitate to move your fly with some authority when you’re retrieving it as well. A lot of people we see are stripping their flies too slowly, and not imparting enough action to them. Try and make your fly dart to one side or the other by giving it a ‘pop’ with your stripping hand at the end of each strip.
Depending on how long the weather holds, the next week or two should be great pike fishing, and it could last even longer if it stays warm. Stop by the shop and we can show you the right flies, leaders, and lines, as well as show you a few places on a map that should be productive areas to start at. Get out while you can – this is some of the most exciting fishing of the year!