Well, the crew made the 6 hour trek west again this year to chase what has become one of my favorite fish, the Northern Pike. This marks the second year we have done this trip and I am sure it won’t be the last. I mean, what is not to like about big, aggressive, toothy fish? I just love this type of fishing!
We left Delaware Friday afternoon, we fished Saturday and Sunday and we made the easy drive east on the PA turnpike home early Monday morning. We were all tired, worn out and sore, it was 100% worth it!
If you have never taken a Pike on the fly I would suggest you do it ASAP. This is a very visual fishery with big flies, big fish sometimes at very close quarters. The take is incredible, to the point it can actually frighten you when it happens. I just love every part of it.
We are typically fishing out of drift rafts and the Smith Fly boats are perfect for this type of fishery. The lack of proper boat ramps along the river makes having a portable, light weight boat a must. It would be very hard, almost impossible to fish a hard hull here. We like the Smith Fly rafts so much we brought a “great Big Shoals” 15 footer home with us! 9 weight rods are the norm with an intermediate shooting head line. We opted for a variety of Temple Fork Outfitters rods including the Mangrove, Axiom 2 and the new A2X rods all paired with BVK and BVK 3 reels. Lines were Rio’s Outbound Short intermediate heads with floating running lines.
If you have ever looked into the mouth of a big Northern you will see rows and rows of large, sharp teeth. Wire bite tippet is not a suggestion it is a must! Leaders were fairly simple, 30# mono, 20# mono and a section of 30 pound knotable wire. The entire leader system is less than 3 feet long.
The flies we used were pretty diverse. We threw Game Changers (several varieties) bulkhead hollow flies, double deceivers and Pat Cohen’s Man Bear Pig. On the ride home Ed said “that Man Bear Pig May be the perfect fly for this type of fishing”. One thing is for sure. What ever fly you use make sure it has a sturdy, sharp, heavy gage hook, these fish are no joke. And they will absolutely destroy a poorly tied fly with a cheap hook!
The fishing is pretty simple for these fish. Pound the banks as much as you can and strip, strip, pause. Josh, one of our guides said they get probably 80% of their pike eats on the pause. One thing I will say is you have get the fly in the kitchen, possibly on the dinner plate, and Pike live in some nasty places. You can’t be afraid to put your fly in harms way. Snags, both in and above the water are the norm, know that going in.
The first day we spent almost 10 hours in the boat. Pounding the banks and stripping the fly all the way back to the boat translated into a lot of casting...a lot. We were very thankful for the light swing weight of TFO’s Axiom rod series.
Throwing a 9 weight for 10 hours can be tough. The Axiom 9 weights could be cast all day with no issue.
Pike fishing is a numbers game, with a “moved” fish almost as exciting as a landed fish (almost) in 2 days of fishing two boats, each with 2 anglers moved close to 60 fish landing 17. Size ranged from a few hammer handles to a 36 inch tank. Not quite the fish of 10,000 casts like their bigger cousin the Musky, but not like shooting fish in barrel ether. Wile they are aggressive and once they commit they are all in, they certainly are not stupid. Good accurate casts and a varied, erratic retrieve were a must. I can’t tell you haw many times Josh would say “put some pauses in there” I am glad he did because when that fly stopped and kicked sideways…
Till next time,
Tight Lines – Tim
Over the Memorial day weekend myself and a few members of the Norvise crew headed west to chase what was to be a new species for me, The Northern Pike. You may know Norvise has a strong relationship with Steelhead Alley Outfitters, the premiere outfitter on the Alley. What you may not know or realize is Steelhead Alley is a geographical area, hence the name SAO outfitters. Anyone who has fished this area knows there is PLENTY more to catch in the Alley other than Steelhead. Intrigued???? Read on.
While Steelhead are in fact a large portion of SAO's guide service (Norvise runs a hosted trip out to the Alley once a year) the warm water program can be just as prolific. The 2 guides spearheading the cultivation of the Pike program are Dan Bennett and Josh Trammell. At 22 and 19 years old respectively, these young men are mature beyond their years. We at Norvise have been fortunate to fish with a lot of different people over the years, let me tell you, ether of these young men can guide me any time, they are that good!
Going into this trip we really didn't know what to expect, this is a new fishery and we were the very first clients that had been guided for Pike by Steelhead Alley Outfitters. Having fished with these guys before I knew they would work hard and do everything they could do to get us fish. I must admit, on the ride out I was having trouble shaking the thought "this is a new fishery for them and we are the first ever clients on it.' I figured this was going to be epic one way or the other. An epic weekend on the water or an epic failure. I was hoping for the former not the latter.
In prep for the trip we contacted our buddy and TFO vise president Nick Conklin and picked up a few new Axiom 2 nine weights, and a few BVK reels.
We talked to Norvise Ambassadors Nome Buckman-Stark owner of "Predators on the Fly" and Thomas Williams, owner of "Stoney's Custom" Flies and fortified our fly selection.
We were rigged up and ready to go with some new gear, new lines, fresh tied leaders and a selection of flies that would make Blane Chocklett smile, still I couldn't shake the feeling that I was not sure if we were "ready" yet.
While we were driving out on Friday, Tyler and I got into some deep conversation about the trip, our 2 businesses, our hopes and expectations for the coming year and about life in general. I do enjoy these times with my son as we talk and I can see him start to mature. Some times he will come up with these profound thoughts that make me step back and think to myself, "he is going to be alright in life" other times he says something and I look at him and think "who the hell are your parents" one thing for sure, it is never dull. He could see I was stressing a little about the trip (I tend to do that about a lot of things) and he says "lets just go and have fun, what do we have to loose"? At that point I said to myself if I boat 1 Pike during the trip I will be happy. Well, I accomplished that in the first 10 minutes.
We were throwing 8 and 9 weight rods. I had one rigged with an intermediate and one with a floater. Leaders were simple affairs with a butt section of 30 pound Maxima Chameleon and a section of 30# bite wire tippet For the sinkers, the floaters got an extra section of 25# between the butt and the bite wire. As mentioned we had a variety of big, nasty meat flies, all of which would be perfect for Northern's. Most of the trip we wound up fishing a fly Dan and Josh have been working on developing specifically for this fishery, a Frankenstein combination of a Deceiver, Hollow Fly, and a T Bone. A large profile for sure, but light and easy to cast. Did I mention the action, oh yeah the action, it is plain ole SICK!
Well, 10 minutes into the float I had a fish swipe at the fly and miss. Dan says, very emphatically, "get it back in there, now, now now"! So I cast back in where he swiped at it and sure enough a 25" green freight train absolutely crushed Thomas' Sucker Game Changer, I mean CRUSHED it!
Shortly after this Tyler came tight to his first fish. I am in the front of the boat and I feel him strip set. He says "that is a fish, that is a fish, THAT IS A BIG FISH"
We continued floating and casting, A lot of casting. The really cool thing is this fishery is so visual. You can see the fly, the take and the fight. it is something every fisherman or woman should experience at least once in a lifetime.
By the end of the second day we had moved 70+ fish and landed around 20 between the 2 boats. Sizes ranged between Hammer Handles to 2 fish in the 40" class, one was even landed on a on a popper! We also boated some really nice Smallmouth too.
I think you could say we had a pretty good trip! Northern Pike quickly ascended to the top of my "Most favorite fish to fish for" list. They are such a blast on fly gear! The picture below is my favorite picture from the trip. Dan was as excited as me when we landed this fish (pretty evident we were happy) This will eventually be framed and put on the wall in my tying studio as a reminder of a fantastic weekend.
Till next time