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Hooking a pike on fly

Hooking a pike on fly is usually difficult, as the take is often visible

Waiting for a take on the river. But even the most prepared angler can be shocked at the violence of the pike's lunge before the
Waiting for a take on the river. But even the most prepared angler can be shocked at the violence of the pike's lunge before the

Casting a fly for river pike can be surprisingly visual. This has pros and cons. One of the pros is the magnificent sight of a big fish appearing out of nowhere. Initially invisible, due to the pike's camouflaged back, but then, as she nears your fly, she tilts slightly sideways which brings her silvery outline into view. She glides onto the fly, often at great speed and then almost stops dead as the fly is inhaled. The downside of these visuals is that the excitement and surprise caused by this sudden appearance will often induce the angler to “strike” too soon. If this all happened out of sight you would, in all probability, not feel anything until she has turned away with the fly, and this is the perfect time to set the hook.

So a take from a pike can feel surprisingly slight or indeed gentle. Striking prior to this often results in a missed fish. You will be amazed at how quickly a pike can engulf a fly and then exhale it (when this occurs out of sight, you may not have felt anything on the retrieve, but you will find that your fly that has been wrapped up into a messy ball). The saltwater fly fisher's strip-strike is the only logical answer to these situations. The jaws of a pike are immensely powerful and once the fly is locked down in a mouthful of hundreds of teeth it can be hard to set the hook with a mere lift of the rod. That said, even strip-striking has its limits. I was once in a situation where a huge pike, more like an alligator really, had taken my fly. On this occasion I instigated a “tarpon” strike, two hard pulls with the left hand on the fly line and then one jab backwards with my right, which was holding the rod. This massive female then nonchalantly swam a couple of yards, opened her mouth, shook her head and returned the fly like an arrow and into a tree behind me! (I later heard that the same pike had returned a coarse fisherman’s plug, in a similar manner, having first crushed the treble hooks!)

The strip-strike its exactly what it says on the tin. The rod tip is held low, pointing directly at the fly. When the fish takes, the rod tip stays in this position, and the line-hand pulls on the line – just as if you were retrieving a lure fast – to set the hooks home. The difficulty for most trout fishers is that they have become conditioned to lift the rod tip at the first sign of a take, and this is a really difficult habit to lose when pike fishing. Unfortunately, only practice can make this perfect!

The other advantage of a strip-strike is that if the hook doesn’t set, the fly has only been pulled a short distance away from the pike, which gives her another opportunity to take it again. Studies indicate that pike have only got a 50% hit rate and thus they are programmed for repeated attempts at capturing their prey. I’ve sometimes had as many as four attempts at setting the hook due to subsequent repeated takes, all on the same retrieve, resulting (eventually) in success.

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