The tip of my rod points to a slow, black gliding torpedo. I yell, “he is going right.” Graham, my long time drinking/fishing buddy, rolls out a perfect cast from the opposite bank. The seductive five-inch streamer lands a few feet from the snout of the northern pike. Its head jerks to the side and it begins to follow. Graham tugs the streamer along in erratic movements.
The fish lazily waves its tail in pursuit. Graham’s eyes open wide with expectation, ready to drive the hook deep with a raise of the rod. The pike, just inches away from the offering, suddenly turns away deciding that the fly was more amusing than delicious.
Feeling justly bested, yet bitter, I make my way along the steep bank slipping and cussing as I go. The snow sticks to my felt bottomed boots giving me a good idea of how it feels to walk in high heels.
It’s February in Missoula and the piking is slow, but it’s better than sitting inside. There are a few tricks you can use this time of year to better your chances.
Fish your streamer a little slower than you would later in the spring. The fish are more lethargic now, since they aren’t quite thinking about spawning yet.
Make sure the streamer is properly weighted to get down towards the bottom. If you use a really heavy streamer with floating line it will work, but the fly will be rising and then dive-bombing with every strip. This movement isn’t natural. I like an intermediate line with a lightly weighted fly.
Berry Reynolds and John Berryman give advice in their book Pike On The Fly on how to beat the dreaded follow. As described above the follow is when the pike chases your fly, sometimes till it’s right in front of you, then suddenly dismisses it.
The book says that you should strip the fly in faster when the pike is following without eating. Their logic here is, “what would a six-inch sucker do if it were trailed by three feet of hungry pike? It would put on its track shoes and run!”
The authors also said that if the fly sits directly in front of the pike’s nose then the pike can’t see it. The pike’s eyes sit too far back on their head to see the fly when it’s so close. Again, stripping the fly in faster will take care of this problem.
To put this advice to use you have to completely retrieve your fly. If you don’t do this, you may never see that following pike. The earlier you learn to completely retrieve the fly the more pike you will catch.
Fishing for pike this time of year is surely going to test your patience. If all else fails just flip that dismissive pike the bird and call it a day, because come spring time you know you will be giving it a lip piercing.
If it had been a better day Graham may have scored one like this, caught on February 14.