Pike are apex predators. That’s the first thing to remember when you’re trying to catch them.
Virtually nothing underwater poses much of a threat to an adult pike. Their only real threats come from bears, eagles and humans – all terrestrial creatures.
While a trout may be spooked by an odd-looking fly or a loud, splashing delivery, these are not necessarily problems to a big, hungry pike. Remember, these fish don’t have much, if anything to fear underwater.
They don’t look at the odd or unusual as danger, they look at it as potential food.
Two Methods To Choose The Best Fly To Catch Pike
Like most other predatory fish, there are two ways that you can trigger a strike from pike.
1. Matching the food source
If you know your water body is full of big, fat baitfish then go with a baitfish pattern that’s going to match the size color and shape of the prey.
Even better, go a little bigger and a little brighter to make your fly seem like the best meal available.
A perfect imitation isn’t the idea here. As long as your fly fits into the range of things that the fish are keying on, you’re likely in luck.
Likewise, don’t be afraid to go big. It may seem absurd at first to be throwing six or eight-inch (15-18cm) long streamers, but that will change when you start landing big pike with them.
2. Generating strikes from aggression and instinct
This is playing the pike’s predatory status against it.
When I was guiding, we could sometimes bring big pike to the side of the boat by simply flashing the white palm of our hands in the water. Thankfully, we never actually got a strike using this method, but our guests always enjoyed it and it really demonstrated how aggressive and curious these fish can be.
This method simply requires that your fly be bright, flashy and bold.
Bear in mind that these are not hard and fast categories. A pattern can be both an imitation and an attractor. Often, the best approach is a fly that combines these two categories.
So, where does that leave us when we’re digging through our fly boxes? These next five flies are the ones I find myself reaching for most often.
The Best Flies For Pike
1. Bunny Leech
When I was guiding in Canada’s Northwest Territories, this was the fly that won the day, every day. We fished the Bunny Leech in traditional black and olive, but also in red, white and a variety of other colors. I even have a neon green version that I had tied for me back then. That one caught fish, too.
This is an imitator pattern and works best in shallow, slow, water.
In other words, the kind of water that both pike and leeches inhabit. Bright colors can be helpful if water clarity is low.
Size doesn’t seem to matter too much. I’ve caught pike on 6-inch (15cm) long bunny leeches, though I’ve never seen a leech that big (and hopefully never will).
2. Clouser Minnow
This is the gold standard baitfish streamer. It’s bright, bold, and runs deep.
Tied in the right colors, it can be a great baitfish imitator – I like it in red and white or red and silver to imitate a bleeding whitefish, but tons of colors will work. Alternately, you can throw one that’s just bright and bold and use it as an attractor.
The other thing that the Clouser Minnow pattern has going for it is that it runs upside down.
This means that you can strip it in over the top of weed beds with less chance of snagging a hook full of weeds along the way.
Since pike love to hang out along the edges of shallow weed beds, that’s a pretty nice feature to have.
3. Woolly Bugger
This might be a bit of a surprise pick, but I’ve known so many people over the years who swear by the Bugger as the best pike fly that I had to include it.
It can imitate leeches, salamanders, and sculpin with ease – all of which are definitely on the menu for pike.
The one recommendation I can make is that, if you’re a tier or you have access to a wide variety of pattern options, adding some copper wire or monofilament to the body will make this fly a little more durable – which can be an important feature when you’re pursuing a fish with teeth like a pike’s.
4. Muddler Minnow
The Muddler can be fished to imitate both a baitfish – which it was designed for, and as a topwater pattern to imitate frogs and mice. Pike love swimming terrestrials and the muddler fished near a shoreline or along reeds can be deadly.
When I’m fishing this pattern as a topwater pattern, I like to keep my strips very short and jerky.
A mouse isn’t going to be a great swimmer and your retrieve should reflect that. A splashing, frantic animal is going to attract a lot more attention than a strong, smooth swimmer.
5. Lefty’s Deceiver
While this was originally a striped bass pattern, it’s been well adapted to pike fishing. Like the Clouser, it can be adapted to mimic the baitfish common in the area.
Again, much like the Clouser, I’m partial to red and white, but talk to the staff in your local fly shop and other anglers to understand what’s living in your waters.