Just like many other game fish, northern pike will display seasonal patterns. These patterns are fairly universal and once you are aware of them allow you to more efficiently target structure and cover that are most likely to hold pike, whether it being spring, summer, fall or winter.
This is even more important when it comes to fly fishing for pike since certain seasonal patters are more advantageous to the fly fisherman than others. This is mainly due to the lack of efficiency in targeting deeper structure when fly fishing.
Check the individual sections below for an overview of pike movement and location by season which we hope will help you become a better pike fly fisherman.
The spawn and spring period usually starts right after ice-out and is probably the most exciting time of the year when it comes to fly fishing for northern pike.
During this time both small and large pike gather in shallow bays with water depths of 2-15 feet (figure 1) and is many times the best opportunity of the year to catch a trophy pike (>20 lb.) on the fly.
At the start of this period, focus your search in bays with darker bottoms since they tend to warm up faster. Northern sections of a lake also tends to be productive earlier in the season since they get more hours of sun which helps to warm the water faster.
Pick flies and colours to represent your local forage and let the pike tell you what type of retrieve and depth they prefer. Generally erratic retrieves a couple of feet down in the water column work well but spring pike might prefer slower retrieves with long pauses in between strips.
The spring pattern for pike generally last until the water warms up to above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) at which point pike start their transition into a summer pattern, see below.
Figure 1. Northern pike spring/spawn pattern
When the water temperature reaches ~65 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually occurs around May, pike will start transitioning into a summer pattern. During this period smaller pike generally remains in shallower parts of the lake while larger pike retreats to deeper waters in search of cooler water temperatures and might only go back to the shallows during favourable conditions (figure 2). One thing to keep in mind early in the summer is that pike can transition back and forth between spring and summer patterns due to rapid changes in weather patterns and water temperature.
When targeting larger pike start your search around main lake points, saddles, or humps where the depth reaches at least 15 feet or more with a feeding flat with depths of 15' or less nearby.
Another good strategy is to focus your initial search on the wind blown side of the lake since this tends to activate pike. Alternatively, focus your fly fishing for pike during low light (morning/evening) and during favourable weather conditions such as cold fronts that tends to activate pike and push them up in more shallow water where they can be easier to target for the fly fisherman.
Figure 2. Northern pike summer pattern.
Once the leafs on the trees start changing colour and the water temperature drops to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit both small and large pike again transition into the shallows to put their feed on in preparation for winter (figure 3).
This predictable annual pattern usually emerges in September and lasts through October or until the weeds die off and the water temperature hit the lower 40's. However, it can vary slightly depending on how far north the lake you are fishing is located.
Similarly to spring, this period is one of the best time of the year to be chasing pike with a fly rod since the combination of shallow location and higher activity levels makes them easier to target.
During this time, target main lake bays and point with depths of 2-10'. The key for success is to find areas that still have a healthy population of weeds such as cabbage that tend to concentrate baitfish.
Use flies to imitate the local forage and experiment with retrieves until you find something that works. Don't be afraid to use big articulated flies such as the Critter Get'er or the Hollow Fly Deceiver during this time of year since baitfish has had a full season to grow and put on some extra weight.
Figure 3. Northern pike fall pattern.
In winter northern pike head to the deepest part of the lake in search of warmer water temperatures (figure 4). Up here in the northern parts of North America most lakes freeze over at this time of year and there is unfortunately not much fly fishing to enjoy. Instead, this time of year time is spent tying flies, planning, and dreaming in preparation for the next pike fly fishing season.
Figure 4. Northern pike winter pattern.
Adding flash and vibration to flies is a proven way of attracting predatory fish. A great way of doing so is to spruce up your flies with wiggle tails. The life-like action of wiggle tails are hard for the fish to resist.
In this article you find an instructional video on how to attach wiggle tails to your flies using snaps for hooks and snaps for tails.
In this video Ben Pacheco from Rapax Fly Fishing shows you how to tie the Clouser Minnow.
Although a fairly simple pattern in terms of the number of materials used, the Clouser Minnow is a proven performer when it comes to bass fly fishing and is a must in every fly box.