Jacks and a Beanstalk - Fly Fishing for Pike
There is something inescapably calming about fishing. It offers a constructive yet enriching escape from everyday life. As soon as you arrive at your chosen spot, the world stands still in eager anticipation of what awaits. Sometimes I wonder if the anticipation of what could be will ever outshine the actual day on the water. And I hope it never does. I truly believe the combination of anticipation and the culminating reality form a perfect balance, fulfilling an angler's purpose. And nothing quite matches the anticipation of targeting a new species.
The Pike is a fish I have long been in awe of. An almost…majestic ambush predator with a seemingly remorseless killer instinct. Spoiler alert. I had never caught a pike before this trip. I always associated them with spinning lures and dead baiting. I had targeted them once or twice before on spinning gear, to no avail. I could never get into these because I always missed casting a fly.
So, when an opportunity presented itself to target them with my good friend and River Keeper, Toby Hudson on the Middle Kennet, I could not turn it down. The day in question was a cold, crisp winter's morning. The mist gently lifted off the water's surface as the frost began to thaw. I did not hold out much hope for my chances. Having never targeted Pike on the fly before, it was inevitable that I would miss what few chances I might have by trout striking! Pike are notorious for their veracious tendencies. Nonetheless, they are surprisingly timid creatures. And being a larger-than-average human, with some describing me as being built like a beanstalk, stealth has never come naturally, so the odds were stacked against me.
Now I have got the excuses out of the way I will continue with the rest of the day. The set-up was a 9ft 8w rod with a short head fly line and a di7 poly leader culminating in a wire trace and a Gold Clydesdale Perch. Toby suggested we target the smaller Jacks to get my eye in before he took me to a stretch of water whose residents would be at home in a spin-off of Jurassic Park. Pike are ambush predators, so it was important to focus on areas where they can lie in wait without exerting too much energy. We started by covering the margins and working our way downstream, focusing on slack water, back eddies or any holes that looked...well...fishy. It wasn't long before an explosion of water and teeth at my feet resulted in the first fish of the day. A beautifully marked small jack of around 6-7lb. Not big, by any stretch of the imagination, but my first ever Pike, so I was chuffed!
We continued to work our way downstream, covering as much water as possible. Toby suggested that he would be surprised if we saw another fish as they had been few and far between recently, but we persevered. He took me to the beat just above Jurassic Park to see if we could find anything a little bigger. We replaced the small perch with a considerably larger black reaper fly. It was time to go big or go home. I continued to work the margins moving downstream every few casts, where I was met with yet another explosion of teeth and bankside vegetation. The take took me by such surprise I inevitably trout struck and pulled the fly out of its mouth! Thankfully not a big fish, but still infuriating. I repeated this process another two times, with the last fish being over 20lb from the Jurassic Park beat! I had to take a five-minute breather after that one to compose myself...
Naturally, due to their occupation, Pike has phenomenal camouflage, and as I continued on, I spooked several nice fish by standing virtually on top of them! It was not going well.
Finally, as the light began to fade, I was determined to get one more fish! We ventured back to the beat we began the day, and ironically, I set the hook perfectly on the smallest fish of the day, around 4lb on the same reaper fly, which was not much smaller than the fish. A lovely Pike, but not quite the one that got away! We persisted in our pursuit of a double but settled for another 2 larger jacks between 7-9lb. All in all, a fantastic day trying something new.
Tight lines for 2023!