Tuesday, April 6, 2010

MISSION: Pike on the Fly

On the way back from steelhead fishing, back in March, Rippinlip commented that he would like to target Pike on the fly rod.
“Sounds good to me” I replied
I pictured a nice warm day in ‘T’ shirts maybe around the end of June or July. We’d have a cooler of beer and lots of room to cast our fly rods and heavy streamers in some pike waters.
Well, a few days later Rippinlip private messages me and tells me he was going out to scout around and see if the pike were in the stream and active. I guessed the ‘targeting pike mission’ was going to be sooner than I expected.
I never fished for pike exclusively but did catch one in the Shenango Dam area on a white rooster tail when I was in my twenties. I never thought of pike as a game fish for fly guys but I was up for the challenge. I looked through my L. L. Bean catalogue, Cabela’s catalogue and The Fly shop catalogue to get an idea of what size hooks to use and pictures of pike flies. I figured 4” streamers would be about right and hook sizes from #2’s to 6’s. I started tying trout pattern streamers like a Black Ghost and Counterfeiter only in longer lengths and sizes. I also tried to match some of the pike flies I seen in the catalogues with the material I already had available and a few patterns I conjured up with my own ingenuity. I had tied 2 of each pattern, one for Rip and one for me.
Rippinlip private messaged me to set up the fishing outing for pike soon. We figured on Easter Sunday and I’d be at his house about 9:00am.

Mission; Pike on the Fly

 We inconspicuously parked along the side of the road with no signs of my vehicle being owned by fishermen. We put on our dark polarized shades and hurriedly put on our fishing gear. We grabbed our 2 piece, unassembled rods, and headed across the private property, permission granted, towards our secret location.
 The morning air gave off a slight chill so a long shirt was appropriate. The blue sky showed no future sign of rain. The early April Sunday wasn’t the warm ‘T’ shirt day I was hoping for but it surely wasn’t the cold frigid windy April days I was used to.
 Rippinlip carried his Pflueger 7/8 weight fly rod and a wallet full of streamers. I carried my 7wt. Clearwater steelhead/largemouth bass 9 and a half footer, equipped with 10lb bass taper leader and 12lb spider wire. I brought along 6” steel leader if the fishing gets rough. I had my hand tied streamers in a narrow cigar box along with my trout streamers and a few other items in my ‘pike vest’.
 We were newbies to the mission, with fly rods, so we wanted to be prepared for all situations.

We walked on an almost unmarked animal trail through dried saplings and shoulder high jagger brush that slowed our maneuverability, catching our clothes and sections of our fly rods. Good thing we didn’t have to enter the area quietly. Frail sticks cracked under our hip boots and fragile branches were broken and snapped as Rippinlip made the trail more accessible for me. A machete would have made the trail blazing easier!!
 Frogs croaked in the distance telling me we were getting closer to the creek. The early sun shined brightly and there was a sense of a fine fishing day ahead of us on our mission. Nearing the creek green and dull maroon colored water cabbage leaves poked through the water surface in clusters suggesting good cover for ambushing pike. Looking down into the deep channeled discolored creek gave an eerie feeling of what might be lurking within. I finally spotted a small path leading to the creek bank. Still on the trail, I pieced together my 9 and a half footer and slid open the cigar box. I selected a Black Ghost pattern and snapped it on my Fast-snap that I had knotted to my 12lb spider wire. I pulled out my pouch of side chew and three fingered a good cut of Stoker’ Black Wild Cherry and stuffed it into my left cheek, I was getting serious! Weaving my way down the bank, through short trees and wily flimsy branches I came to the mud ridden bank bottom. I noticed a shallow underwater muskrat hole that I was sure to lose a leg if I wasn’t careful. The mud bank looked soft and I was sure I would sink in it like quicksand. I carefully stepped on clumps of branches and limbs to secure my footing. The branches would sink an inch or so, under my weight, before settling into the mud. With backside foliage, I pulled line out and began to roll cast my fly out into the tinted channel. Dropping my streamer, across stream, I let it sink some and than slowly stripped it through the cold creek water. Downstream I heard branches snapping as Rippinlip descended down the bank also.
 I changed streamers often in trying to at least get a follower to give me an idea what color or size might be tempting. I thought a little more action might bring out a curious pike so I snapped on my own ’Torpedo1’ tobacco brown body and olive marabou tail streamer. I false casted with the flow of the creek and dropped the streamer just shy of a downed limb that laid across the stream surface. Letting it sink about a foot and a half, I quickly pulled and jerked the fly line to get the propeller spinning that I had mounted just behind the hook eye. Slowly stripping the streamer in, against the current, midstream, I watched the 4” streamer come into view. Behind this, about a foot away, a baseball bat long cylindrical dark fish followed. His thickness was like that of the barrel of a baseball bat. The long flat nosed pike slowly inspected my streamer from behind keeping my offering at a distance. My hands gripped the cork handle tighter as I kept the long rod horizontal in front of me. My heart started to race with anticipation waiting at any moment for the pike to shark attack my streamer. I twitched the rod tip to give the streamer a little more action but the fish just kept his distance following without any sudden movement. I quit my stripping for a few seconds and let the marabou tail waver with the current. The long pike stopped and kept himself suspended still keeping his distance from the streamer tail. I again stripped in line slowly until the streamer was right in front of me. Lifting it up the pike turned towards the opposite bank and disappeared into the deep channel.
 Disappointed, yes, but encouragement and enthusiasm flowed through my nerves, blood and brain waves. Patience and persistence I knew would eventually prevail.
 We moved downstream to a wider and deeper section off a cement embankment. Rippinlip worked the mid to outflow section of the pool as I worked the mid to upstream section. Delicate and precise casts were needed to avoid the foliage behind us and the far bank-side brush and branches. Rippinlip got a good roll cast putting his streamer in the mouth of a narrow channel of water entering the pool across from him. I listened as he commented that a small pike followed his offering. No take but the sighting gave us a little more encouragement. Time ticked on and Rippinlip climbed back upon the cement and trail as I slipped into his vacated position. With each of my casts throughout the pool he spotted for me from above. Watching for any followers and indicating where submerged logs were, he guided me around or over such snags. I notated this helpful info, in my mind, of where in the pool these obstructions were as I was unable to see them from my low angle of vision. Soon I heard Rippinlip breaking through the brush behind my right shoulder just around the bend. He slipped into the water across from a bog of partially submerged water cabbage clumps that edged the far side of his position. I continued to work the pool with an array of my different color streamers.
 All of a sudden I heard him call out “got one!”
I quickly reeled in my line wanting to get a picture of his catch. Just as suddenly he shouted the fish got loose. He exclaimed his heart was pounding profusely after seeing the pike take his fly and for that instant feeling the fish on.
 I looked into my cigar streamer box and snapped on another 4” streamer. Within five minutes Rippinlip called out again he hooked another. I heard a splash and turned to see his rod bent and tensioned fly line. I started up the bank when again he shouted “it got off” in disappointment.
‘Two hits in 5 minutes’ I thought, ’maybe they’re going to turn on?
 I casted out and began to work the pool over. Again in my fly box, I pulled out a pike fly Cold had given me the day before down on Little Mahoning Creek. The clouser looking streamer, with a conglomeration of cross cut chartreuse rabbit fur, artic fox, Icelandic sheep hair and ostrich herl that looked to have potential. (Not that I’m an expert, mind you!)
 I roll casted the streamer into the narrow channel across from me. Letting it sink I slowly stripped in line and twitched the rod tip sending waves and vibration to the streamer. During the strip in the line resisted as if I took hold of a snag. I stripped set the hook anyhow and sure enough the rod tip flexed downward and I seen the flash of a turning small pike.
“Ya, fish on” I called out “not a biggie but it’s a pike!”
 The small pike wasn’t a match for the 7wt. Rod or heavy tippet. After getting the fish to my feet I reached into my pocket and handed the camera to Rippinlip for a picture of my first pike on the fly.
 Back to fishing it didn’t take too long for Rippinlip to hook into another. After he called out I heard a splash. I hurriedly climbed up the bank to the trail and grabbed my camera hanging on a branch. I watched as the tip of his fly rod flexed under the tension of the unseen pike. Than, without warning, the line went limp and his fly rod straightened. There was a dead silence as Rippinlip couldn’t believe it happened again.
 I gave him words of encouragement before razzing him a little as good friends always do.
I went back down to the wide pool and on my second cast, of Cold’s pike fly, I landed it into a far side weedy bush. There was no saving the streamer as I tugged wanting it back. Pulling on the fly line the 10lb bass tapered leader broke before the spider wire knot. Cold’s pike streamer hung, dangling, on a branch as the sun’s rays reflected off the shimmering strands of Krystal Flash.
 I knotted on another Quick-snap to the Bass tapered leader. I looked into my trout streamer box and pulled out a Mylar minnow looking short streamer. I worked the pool to my left and than false casted backhand and side armed my forward cast near the cabbage patch across from Rippinlip. Just out from some branches that lay upon the water between Rippinlip and I my line sank quickly upon a short pause on my strip in. I pulled back and set the hook on the flat nosed pike. Another quick fight, swirling water and controlling the fish I got him bank-side. We got a quick picture together and I released him back into the pool. Within the next half hour or so Rippinlip hooked into another but failed to land it. I had lost my minnow looking fly to an underwater snag and was ready to try a different spot along the creek.
 I walked a short piece upstream from Rippinlip and made my way down the crumbly forested bank into the soft mud and branches near shore. I watched Rippinlip for a minute or so underhand casting the long fly rod. He lifted it up and wristed the line and fly, flipping it out, into and between the cabbage patch. He skirting the tops with his streamer and then letting it drop, just this side of the bog, back into the deep channel of the creek. It was like watching a master pitching and flipping a lure from a bait caster reel and rod.
 After a few casts I snagged up on one of the cabbage rolls on the far side. I quickly yanked the line back and the hook let loose sending my fly line and leader into the overhanging branches above me. What a bird’s nest snag I got myself into. I thought I was going to lose it all but I managed to get the end of my fly line close enough to cut the tapered bass leader. I pulled the fly line through my guides and the line snaked its way through the twisted branches overhead. I climbed the bank and nail-knotted the bass leader back onto my fly line. I was back in action. Rippinlip moved along shore and made his way back to the wide pool. I dropped down the bank and took position where he just left from. It seamed that all the pike we had caught had been on something shiny and a good deal of white material added in. Knowing that Rippinlip and I had mostly the same fly patterns I selected something different from what we have been using. I took out a black bunny leech with bead chain eyes.
 I started working the area in front of the cabbage patch edge with my black bunny leech. On one cast out I let the bunny leech swing with the slow under current down stream. When my line made it mid-stream I lifted the rod tip, lifting the leech pattern, and started to strip the streamer in. I caught a long lengthy flash out of the corner of my eye and I dropped the rod tip slightly. The fish turned and my fly line took off across stream with my rod flexing towards the middle. My grip tightened immediately and soon the visible fly line swung and vibrated with the vicious head shakes on the other end.
“Got another” I called out “nice one!”
 She sub-surfaced as I lifted the rod. Upon diving back down I swear she alligator rolled trying to twist her way free. I gave her some line as the rod flexed downward towards her. She tried to force her way to the cabbage patch bog area but with my rod down and sideways the pressure was too much and I forced her to retreat towards me. A little more persuading and I got her to my feet. My third pike and bigger than the last two.
 I climbed the bank with a handful of fish and Rippinlip was ready with the camera. After a quick shot I released her back into the water. She swam to the nearest cover against the near bank.
 We fished another hour or so without any hook ups. The sun was heating things up and Easter dinner time was drawing near.
We found an easier going path back to the blacktop road and walked to my ‘day tripper van.’ We tried to inconspicuously put our gear into the back hatch and climbed in the front seats. At the stop sign Rippinlip emptied his smoked cigarette butts, from his pocket, into my garbage pail as I took a Macanudo Ascot out of the 10 pack tin. Borrowing a lite, I nipped off the end and lit the small cigar.
‘Mission accomplished!’ I figured. We didn’t land any monsters but for a first time mission I thought we did well.
“What’s next?” I asked Rippinlip for an idea for another first time fly fishing mission for another species.
“How about ____?____ on a fly rod?” he asked
“Sounds good to me”. “Just tell me the day and time” I said between puffs.
I can keep a secret!!!

first pike

second pike

third pike

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