A 2-pound walleye gets T-boned as you bring it to the boat. The small pike that you have on is doing its best imitation of a flying fish, more frightened of the huge shadow stalking it than of the hook in its mouth. What was a brightly colored, leaping, flashing jewel is now tattered shreds of grayling.
Most of us have seen these things at one time or another, and in my world, the culprit is usually a northern pike—often a huge one. Large fish like this are frequently opportunistic, even when they are not actively feeding. It is all about the promise of a big, easy meal. As a fly-fishing guide, my challenge is all about creating that illusion in a fly.
I have been fly fishing for pike for nearly 30 years, and I have spent nearly all that time fishing in what most people would consider heaven for anglers looking for trophy pike. Northern Saskatchewan has a well-deserved reputation of being among the finest places in the world to catch high numbers of large northern pike. A “perfect storm” of climate and geology here has created a vast region of the Precambrian Canadian Shield pockmarked with thousands of lakes. The lakes are home to walleye, lake trout, grayling, and of course giant pike.
For fly fishers, these toothy predators are probably the most desirable of all these northern species because of their size, preference for relatively shallow water, and their exciting and ferocious feeding behavior. Nothing in fresh water is more thrilling than seeing a large wake push out from the weeds and follow your fly.
For almost three decades I have been a guide on one of these lakes, so I may be biased when I say that Wollaston Lake—800 square miles of prime northern pike habitat nestled deep in the boreal forest—is the best place in the world to catch a 50-inch pike on a fly. From shallow spawning bays to deep cabbage beds, lily pads to wind-blown rocky shorelines, or quiet eddies to fast-flowing rapids, Wollaston Lake has an almost unending supply of pike hot spots.
My summer long access to this resource allows me a great deal of freedom to experiment with a variety of fly patterns. Low angling pressure, a huge territory, and a longstanding catch-and-release policy all contribute to an extremely healthy population of fish of all sizes.
When you see large numbers of 40-plus inch fish every day, it doesn’t take very long to get a good idea of how the fish react to different lure sizes, profiles, colors, materials, or tying styles.
In developing the Monster Magic, I wanted a fly with a large profile, nearly neutral buoyancy, and a sinuous, undulating action. The fly needed to be durable, easy to tie, push a fair amount of water, cast reasonably well, and of course, catch fish.
All my larger flies are tied “in the round.” They have no eyes or gills, and show the same profile from all sides. I firmly believe that the profile and action of the fly are the most important visual cues to the fish. My most successful colors are black and red, and I believe it is because they are highly visible over a wide variety of conditions.
Over the years, I have tried a number of different ways to make a truly large fly. Often, I ended up with a beast that could catch fish, but was difficult to cast. It took the development of specialized fly hooks, like the Ad Swier Absolute Pike Hook, and improvements in synthetic fibers to make a fly like the Monster Magic possible.
Tying fishable flies with extremely long materials requires a few specialized techniques. The long, undulating tail fibers that give this fly its irresistible action are prone to fouling if not controlled.
The method I use with this pattern is based on designs from Pop Fleyes by Ed Jaworowski and Bob Popovics—one of the best books on fly tying and fly design I have ever read.
The layering of progressively shorter (and thus stiffer) materials as you work toward the fly’s head provides support for the longer tail fibers. Keeping the bulk of the material closer to the hook bend (Keys tarpon style) also helps minimize fouling.
I see big pike caught on flies of all sizes, and there is no denying that big fish will eat small stuff. However, I am continually in awe of the incredible strikes that I get on the Monster Magic. There is no doubt in my mind that fish attack a big fly more aggressively than a small one. I have never seen a pike sip a Monster Magic. They crush it!
On a final note, do not get caught up in the myth that you should use smaller lures early in the season, and larger flies later. Big fish eat big forage all season, and I have had incredible success using big patterns in the early season. My largest pike, a 51-inch monster that weighed just over 30 pounds, was caught in the third week of our fishing season.
Good luck! I hope the Monster Magic brings you as much success and enjoyment as it has for me.
Dwayne “Chip” Cromarty lives in La Ronge Saskatchewan, 375 miles north of Regina. This is his first article in Fly Fisherman.