Top-water Pike

Clive Schaupmeyer
Coaldale, Alberta, Canada
Photographer Author

The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing
A step-by-step guide for novice and intermediate fly anglers Over 200 color pictures, black-and-white pictures and illustrations

Guys still look at me as if I am crazy when I talk about catching pike on "dry flies." It takes some convincing, but it only takes one pike "dry fly" outing to convert the skeptics! The action can be absolutely explosive!! Big pike. Small pike. It doesn't matter. Watching a bow wave swell up two meters from a "slider" sitting idly on the surface. . . well, it is all you can do to remain calm. And sometimes the water simply explodes unexpectedly as a pike clears the surface.

Okay, they are not "dry flies," like the ones we use for trout. But they are on the surface. And pike eat them. That works. I owe my enthusiasm to Graham Anderson from Carseland. I had fly-fished for pike for a number of years and thought about using floating flies now and then--but never tried it. Graham convinced me it was worthwhile.

As a novice pike fly angler you're likely to have the most success with subsurface streamers. But sooner or later you'll want to try luring a feisty pike with dry flies, or, more correctly, floating flies, poppers or sliders. A popper is a flat-nosed floater. It "pops" when tugged. A slider has a pointy nose and "slides" on the surface and makes less of a commotion.

Although pike will attack floating flies under a wide range of conditions, they seem to hit dries best when the water is smooth. Pike eat primarily below the surface and presumably have not developed the ability-as trout have-to pinpoint the exact location of a floating object. As a result you may find that even a 1-inch chop is enough to stop pike from hitting. In which case you may want to switch back to subsurface streamers. Some dry-fly pike anglers have found when the water is rougher that pike will strike floating flies that make lots of noise when stripped. Popper flies, with flat nosed heads, make an audible "sploosh" when stripped and are recommended if the water is less than smooth. You also might find that pike will hit floating flies more frequently when the sun is low in the sky, which for most of us is toward sunset-versus early in the morning.

If they are not hitting the floating flies you are using, tie on a larger fly, one of different color, or one that makes a loud noise when stripped. Then if you still are not catching pike on the surface (and know the pike are active because other anglers are catching pike with subsurface lures), then change to a streamer that sinks.

Floating pike flies have two basic parts: a tail/body section and a foam head. The 5- to 8- inch body/tail consists of a few strands offeathers, frayed yarn, "fish" hair or some other suitable willowy material like Icelandic sheep wool. Flies should be dressed lightly so they don't absorb too much water which interferes with casting. If you tie your own flies use yellow, chartreuse, or orange materials in the body and highlight this with gold, pearl or silver flash strands. Local experience may dictate that other color combinations should be tried first.
Flies are supported in the water with foam plugs that can be purchased from fly shops. You can also make your own floating heads by cutting plugs from high-density foam like that used in beach sandals. Try to select colors that closely match the main body color, although exact matches are not critical. Foam heads can be whittled with a utility knife and scissors, or cylindrical plugs can be punched from the foam slab using a coring tool. The tool is made by sharpening one end of a short section of 0.5-inch diameter copper or brass tubing.

Tying floating pike flies is simple. After the body/tail material is secured to the hook, the head plug is forced over the hook shank. To make this easier, a hole is first pierced in the foam head. The hook shank can be pre-wrapped with yarn which is then soaked with tying cement to help secure the head plug. The head can simply be left force fitted and glued, or can secured with a few wraps of strong tying thread over the tapered end. The tapered foam head can be secured "backwards" on the hook shank to create a popper fly. Floating pike fly retrieval techniques are simple. After casting, the slack is taken from the line. The fly is then stripped in a few inches every second or two. Sometimes let the fly sit for several seconds between strips.

One clear advantage of floating flies is that they can be tossed into small clearings in surface weeds where even weedless sinking flies would notwork. The fly can sit and be twitched and slowly retrieved in a clearing nobigger than a bathtub. You never know what fishy critters lurk in small places.

The strikes can be awesome-and alarming. A pike may come up from deep and take you by complete surprise as it leaps clear of the water. Most strikes are less spectacular, but still rather startling. Pike will attack from behind or cruise in from one side and their bodies will half emerge the instant they attack the fly. And then there are those heart-arresting attacks that start several feet away . . . the water swells up from stage left and a water wave races toward the fly. It's hard not to pull the fly away from these aggressive pike.

Try to delay setting the hook and do so by simply raising the rod. Most pike will get hooked on their own-or not. Also have a look at the articles and fly patterns at this site -

Clive Schaupmeyer
Coaldale, Alberta, Canada