Although I live in a region of the country where Northern Pike aren't exactly abundant, there are a reasonable number of opportunities to pursue the toothy predators within a few hours of my urban home of Philadelphia. Despite this fact, I've never made the journey. This was partly because I'd heard so many tales of their elusiveness, tales of long days spent on the water only to go home empty handed, determined to return again in the hopes of success. Mostly, however, it was because of my unfamiliarity with pike and my resulting uncertainty about what tactics to employ for success. When you've heard fishermen -- ones you know are more skilled than you -- tell tales of repeated skunkings when pursuing any species, the last thing you want to do is head out on your own pursuit of that species without a solid game plan. Not having one, I just stayed home.
Had anyone bothered to mention how similar fly fishing for pike is to fly fishing for largemouth bass, I'd have made the trip sooner. While I'm sure seeking pike in all locations doesn't require the same exact approach, there's no question that stalking pike with the fly is eerily similar to stalking largemouth with the fly.
It's also worth mentioning that, just like fly fishing for largemouth bass, fly fishing for pike is easy. Really easy.
Before you argue, understand that the previous comment is intentionally tongue-in-cheek. Here's why: First, I'm far from an authority on fly fishing for either of these species, as I limit my largemouth bass outings to a few each year and have only recently spent time chasing pike with a fly rod. Second, I've been incredibly blessed in regards to the locations and conditions where I have set out after both largemouth bass -- a private, family-kept 30 acre pond in Pennsylvania where largemouth fight over your fly -- and pike -- in the pike-choked corners of Alaskan lakes during my recent trip to David Bristol's Iris Point camp in Wood Tikchik State Park. And finally, I know that neither pursuit is easy, at least not all the time, I've just been lucky.
What follows is a summary of just some of the similarities of fly fishing for largemouth bass and pike. This isn't intended as a guide on how to fish for either species, but rather to demonstrate that -- if you've compiled equipment and experience fishing for largemouth -- you're likely ready to head out for pike.
If you've got a box of flies you use for largemouth bass -- dahlberg divers, baitfish patterns, poppers, mice, etc -- you're good to go for pike. Pike, like largemouth bass, are aggressive feeders and will attack virtually anything you put in their vicinity that resembles food. Unlike bass, however, Pike will absolutely shred that frog pattern you paid $7 for. Pike have incredibly sharp teeth. Flies pay the price and do so quickly. I've seen patterns destroyed and rendered unfishable on their first cast.
Fly Rods, Lines and Terminal Tackle
In regards to terminal tackle, specifically leader and/or tippet material, both largemouth and pike have hard, sturdy mouths that allow the angler to use stout leader and tippet material. Additionally, neither species is leader shy, so visibility isn't a concern either. I commonly, and comfortably use straight 15-20 pound Maxima Chameleon or Maxima Ultragreen. This will allow to you bring the fish in quickly, but also turn over the big flies used to pursue both species. One important difference in regards to terminal tackle is the need for a 6-10" section of wire leader to attach the fly when out in search of pike. Doing otherwise will result in a large number of pike and flies not making it back to the boat as a courtesy of the aforementioned sharp teeth of the pike.
Though I've seen guys chase largemouth with 5 weights, I don't get it. The flies outlined above, commonly used to pursue both species, are big, heavy, or both. Trying to cast them on a 5 weight simply isn't enjoyable. I have no reason to prove I can cast a giant frog pattern on a five weight, so I don't. For single hand rods, I prefer a 7 or 8 weight when pursuing bass and both work swimmingly well for pike, too. I recently fished a 6 weight Sage ONE Switch rod for Pike, which suited the task just fine as well.
In addition to casting and turning over big flies, both largemouth bass and pike vary significantly in terms of size. A pond or lake that holds a 12 ounce fish commonly also holds a ten pound fish. Pike grow large, with 50 pound pike not unheard of (though certainly not common either). Bringing a stout rod to the game let's me bring in bigger fish quickly and get back to fishing. Thoughts about fishing with lighter gear to liven up the fight should be dismissed, as the rush in fishing for both these species is in their strike, not their fight. Both types of fish will bulldog you for a few seconds and then pretty much quit. Sure, you'll encounter the occasional bass or pike that wants to extend the battle a bit more, but usually won't.
Fish Behavior and Fishing Tactics
Most, if not all, of my time spent seeking largemouth bass is spent seeking and casting to areas on the water which offer some sort of structure or cover where I think bass are likely lurking. This may mean cruising the shoreline, casting to dense weed beds that mingle with shoreline vegetation, casting to areas of dense vegetation farther from shore, or tossing a frog or mouse onto a lilly pad and dragging it into the water.
This is because largemouth bass are ambush predators. So are pike. And, as a result, all of the tactics above work well on Pike too. As ambush predators, bass and pike lie still or cruise slowly in areas that offer cover, in wait of passing prey. When that prey wanders by, the attack is spectacular. Both pike and largemouth are capable of bursts of amazing acceleration which they use to strike prey hard and decisively, often breaking the water's surface in a fury.
Well, Go On
Both largemouth and pike are impressive predators that should, in my experience, be on every angler's list of species they've pursued with a fly rod. I'll be the first to admit that due to the less nuanced nature of the approach involved in chasing pike and bass and the short, bulldog nature of their fight, neither species holds my interest for extended periods of time. That said, a season gone by without at least a few outings for one of these voracious predators would be one I'd look back on with regret.