September 05, 2017
By Matt Straw
Pike live in a green chiaroscuro. Their own green coloration adds to the effect while hiding them perfectly. Pike, therefore, are accustomed to seeing things swim too close. Dangerously close.
Pike live and grow large by this philosophy: The less energy spent, the better. When things casually feed dangerously close to pike, the better they like it. Dead baits work best in spring, before the water hits 50°F. The next best thing, late spring until ice-up, is a fly. Suspending suckers under a bobber are the next best thing, yet pale in comparison. Suckers know when pike are dangerously close, and they react accordingly.
1. Cabela's (Lefty's) Deceiver
This original design by Lefty Kreh is a universal predator wrangler, from Caribbean flats to the pike-infested archipelago on Great Slave's North Shore. When pike flank schools of minnows, this is the fly to use. Built for rapid retrieves so strip 'till you drop and cover water.
2. Clouser Minnow
Bob Clouser developed one of the most famous and effective streamers ever devised. A relatively simple deer-hair tie, flashabou, tinsel, (in this case) feathers, or some other bright materials can be added to create flash. The barbell eyes allow reproduction of one of the most effective pike techniques ever devised: Rip jigging. Allow a Clouser Minnow to drift to bottom on a sink-tip line and rip it 4 feet up with a quick strip while raising the rod tip. Repeat all the way to the boat. Pike tend to follow and tear into it right under your feet.
3. Enrico Puglisi's 3D Perch
So realistic, Puglisi's 3D Perch has become my favorite for big, discriminating pike in heavily pressured lakes and drive-to Minnesotan marvels like Rainy and Lake of The Woods. The bunker style lends itself to speed, suspense, stop-and-go, or just about any tactic. Versatile and effective fly wherever perch are the dominant forage fish.
4. Janie's Flies Jiggy Bunny
Janie's Jiggy Bunny is another great "rip-jigging" fly. With a floating line it darts up-and-down with a steady, rhythmic stripping retrieve. Great for the pike that's seen everything. Great attractor fly in stained waters.
5. Janie's Flies Musky Snake
"I don't like really long flies on 2/0 to 3/0 hooks," says Janie Harpster, inventor of the Musky Snake and the Jiggy Bunny. "I like rabbit because it has more action at slow speeds. You don't need a huge fly to catch pike or muskies. The plastic cone head on the Musky Snake allows the fly to shed weeds and can be snapped side-to-side, creating a unique darting action." Silicone strands behind the head pop out on the pause, creating a "defense posture" to trigger malignant toothies on the follow.
6. Jensen's Magnum Bunny-Strip Leech
Nothing takes pike like a simple black bunny strip. Nothing. Even pike recently caught with a lure will turn on it. Strip it to gain their attention and stop it dead. On a floating line, a bunny strip behaves almost like a suspending bait, undulating with a million little "nyah nyahs" right in their face. Bunnies prod toothy things into lethal hysterics. Pike rarely (if ever) refuse this simple, single-material fly.
7. John Cleveland's Articulated Bunny Buster
John Cleveland works for Eppinger Mfg, best known for Dardevle Spoons. But John is also a devoted fly fisherman and tier. We used his Articulated Bunny Buster to bend pike to our will in the Yukon a few years back. It was the week's top fly. A bead head adds flash and the bunny fur creates goose bumps as this fly turns on the pause and waggles on the strip.
8. John Cleveland's Rattle Head Fly
The pike of the Taltson River (runs into Great Slave, NWT) absolutely adored Cleveland's Rattle Head a few years back. In high or stained water, pike find a Rattle Head faster. Pull it down to running depth, pause and shake it by snapping the tip of the fly rod down. Watch the procedure at boat side to obtain the desired effect.
9. McLeod's Foxy Bunny
Another great attractor in cloudy or dark water, the Foxy Bunny has a fox-hair collar tied over back-to-back bunny strips, each dyed a different, bright, fluorescent color. Barbell eyes take this weighted fly deep along weedlines and rocky structure. The fox moves a little differently than the bunny, waving, breathing, collapsing, and expanding, each at its own pace.Â
10. Mickey Johnson's Deer-Hair Diver
Mickey Johnson guides for pike, muskies, and smallmouth bass on the Mississippi River. His extremely long synthetic tie with beveled deer-hair diving head is one of the easiest big flies to throw I've ever found. Work it like a jerk bait, with long, vicious strips, followed by short pauses, creating a "Z" effect as the diver angles back up on the pause. Great search fly around weeds and wood.
11. Rainy's CF Tandem Baitfish
Few anglers seem to realize how important bluegills and crappies are for pike in the average lake, or how important matching the hatch can be for bigger, more experienced, heavily-pressured toothies. "Rainy's CF Tandem has a sunfish profile," says Struif. "It has all kinds of consecutive movements going on when paused, but it triggers best with speed. Strip this one hard to cover water."
12. The Northwoods Ninja
"The Ninja pushes a lot of water," says Brain Schmidt, fly-sales manager for Umpqua Feather Merchants. "It's an articulated lateral-line stimulator. It triggers pike best with a slow, erratic strip followed by two or three bumps and a pause. Give it two more bumps and most pike engulf it."
13. Umpqua Pike Fly
"This fly is so cool," says Thorne Brothers Fly Angler manager, Scott Struif. "It has great movement in the water and it tantalizes pike when you move it just a little bit. Almost a do-nothing pattern, the Pike Fly catches toothy critters in tight quarters where all you can do is make short strips and twitches, but it triggers well with long, sweeping strips and short pauses, too."
Flies can suspend. Breathe. Twitch in place. Undulate slowly. All while dangerously close. Right in the wheelhouse of Ol' Snaggle Tooth.
Flies with new synthetic materials can be monstrously large yet light as a feather. Some dive and pop back up—perfect for floating lines and dense weedlines. Some hang there, mid column, on the pause. Deadly all year 'round. Some dart back-and-forth on a quick strip, and can be fished on anything from a floating line to a full sinking line, depending on where pike reside in the water column.
The best flies for pike encompass a range of lengths and bulk, from sparse 3-inch bucktails to dense 9-inch composites of hair and synthetics. Smaller flies work best in spring, larger flies late in the season, and anything goes during summer. Depends on weather, fishing pressure, and the skill of the angler. Some flies are best fished "do-nothin' style." Some require constant manipulation. Some sink, and act like jigs. Some float, and act like jerkbaits or topwaters.
I've fly fished for pike from the Yukon to Labrador, around the Great Lakes, and on many lakes of every imaginable size and composition throughout the vast region described. From my perspective, any list of the "Best 13" pike flies on earth has to include something from each category described above, because no single fly consistently fools pike in every imaginable situation. However, even within this exclusive list, some flies are more universal than others.
Pike flies can be effective with anything from a size #4 up to a #6/0 hook, depending on the size of the fly and diameter and stiffness of the collar. A stiff, deer-hair collar demands a larger hook. Most of the Top 13 are tied on size #1 to #3/0 saltwater hooks like the classic Mustad 7766D, the sturdy Owner Aki, or the lovely-but-deadly Gamakatsu SC15.
Cabela's (cabelas.com); Janie's Flies (janiesflies.com); Enrico Puglisi (epflies.com); Thorne Brothers (thornebros.com); Umpqua Feather Merchants (umpqua.com).