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 with Rob Miskosky

The Predator and the Fly

The surface of the water is like a sheet of glass, perfectly calm, reflecting the tall poplar trees that line the shore of the lake. Their reflection is beautiful in the cold, gin clear water, but you’re trying not to notice them. In fact, you’re trying to peer through them, searching for a shadow amid the submergent vegetation that offers sparse cover for the bait fish that dart in large schools, almost all moving in unison in the same direction.

Your boat is anchored less than 50 feet from shore in a large bay that might boast six feet in its deepest spot. The sunlight breaks through the shelter of the poplar and where it hits the water the lake bottom is easily distinguished. A light tan colour broken only by the early growth of lily pads. Their long stems, now only short, but soon to be near surface where they will lay out a single large leaf that will gather in sunlight and offer protection to the various creatures that dwell in and on the lake.

The fury of a big pike on the fly is a breathtaking experience.
Suddenly you catch a slight movement to your right and quickly focus your attention on the spot. Nothing! Or was there? You look again, harder. Your eyes are starting to play tricks on you; you’ve been looking too hard. Or are they? You squint against the poplar tree reflection through searching eyes. And then notice the shadow. At first you’re not sure, but then you see movement, the slight ripple of a large tail attached to a thick, torpedo body that seems to stretch on forever. It’s your fish; the 25-pound predator that lurks silently among the lily pads, waiting for the perfect moment to strike at an unsuspecting victim. It matters not to her who that victim is, as long as she can put something into her post-spawn belly. She’s hungry, but her patience is unmatched.

Suddenly your mind is working overtime. You’re careful now, the huge fish is only 20 feet away and any noise or noticed movement will put an end to your plan. Slowly you raise your fly rod and strip extra line onto the flat bottom of your boat. You calculate the distance and how many false casts you’ll need before shooting the line. You figure three will be enough. She’s quartered away from you making your target five feet ahead of her nose and maybe two feet slightly to the left. It’s a good plan, but only if you can execute it perfectly. A blown cast may result in a missed opportunity. Your heart is pumping hard in your chest and your mouth has gone dry.

Slowly you raise your fly rod and begin your casts. One... you’re throwing slightly side arm to stay unnoticed, eyes glued to the huge fish. Two... you’re out a good 10 feet and your fly is out to her right. Perfect. Three... you’ve got your distance and now work the fly slightly back into her direction. You shoot the line and watch as your large rabbit zonker fly hits the water, shattering the glass precisely where you had intended. Your fly lays motionless, but only for a second. Slowly you retrieve six-inches of line, bringing your fly to life as it quickly darts under the water and then rises to the surface, much like a swimmer doing the butterfly. Your quarry starts to move, focused on the sudden entrance of a meal. You strip another six-inches and watch as the torpedo narrows in on your fly. She’s coming fast and suddenly you feel the line tighten in the fingers of your left hand as the big pike clears the water’s surface, momentum carrying her out of her element. Quickly you lightly release the line, only holding slightly back until line and reel are tight, you hope your drag is set right. The big fish crashes back to the water and then the line begins to peel from your reel much faster than you had imagined. Quickly you regain your composure and try to slow the big fish down. Her strength is amazing and she bends your nine-weight rod tip nearly to the water’s surface as she continues to take line. Just as you start to worry, the big fish slows and then starts to throw her head back and forth, furious with the unsuspecting victim that suddenly fights back. You begin to bring her towards you as she thrashes hard. And then she takes off again, this time with a strength you thought not possible. Suddenly you notice the line shooting out the end of your rod has changed colour... your mind screams, Backing! Panic immediately sets in as your worst nightmare is about to become a reality...

The face only a mother could love.
This is fly-fishing for esox lucious, Alberta’s greatest predator, land or water. And if you’ve never fished for this voracious machine with the high-line, you are missing out on one of Alberta’s finest treasures.

I first became hooked on fly-fishing for northern pike several year’s ago at Namur Lake Lodge, a fly-in lake in northern Alberta. There, my fishing partner, Ken Bailey, gave me a lesson in tackling pike on the fly. It was a lesson I will forever be grateful for.

Today, I spend as much time as I can casting flys to these nasty predators. Pike offer a dangerous excitement when attached to the end of light fly gear. When hooked, they will do everything in their power to throw your hook and quite often they do, usually after a nasty thrashing affair of teeth and spray.

Pike are hard on flies but show no particular choice and will attack even the most shredded fly in a fury similar to that of a feeding shark. It is this fury that compels me to fish them with a fly rod.

Finding large pike to chuck flies to can be quite easy for the angler, whether hardened or novice. Look for reed beds or weedy bottoms in shallow bays or along shorelines. This type of vegetation gives old Esox the ability to blend in and surprise unwary passers-by. Three feet of water can be plenty, especially in spring when big pike will lay up or slowly cruise in search of an easy meal.

Gear includes nothing smaller than an eight-weight rod with a matching weight forward floating line and plenty of backing. A reel with a good drag system is a must, if not, make sure you have that backing. Flies should be as big as possible with a lengthy tail. This long tail enables easy releases as the fish is generally caught only in the lip.

Fly-fishing for pike isn’t fancy, it’s splash and crash fishing at its finest. And if the prospect of catching a fish with a nasty disposition on light tackle appeals to you, then fly-fishing for pike should be one of your outdoor pursuits this season. But be aware, after catching a big pike there could be blood on the water... and chances are, it will be yours. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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