In the Yukon, fly anglers usually target arctic grayling, rainbow trout, or kokanee salmon in stocked lakes. These fish are readily available, fairly easy to catch and make great meals. One very common Yukon fish, usually overlooked by the fly-angler, is the northern pike.
These great fish are often demeaned with nicknames like “slough shark” or “alligator,” and sadly there are some incorrect assumptions about their quality as a food fish. Once you take the time to learn how to create boneless pike fillets you will wonder how you went so long without pike on your plate. Pike are very aggressive predators. They are found in shallow weedy areas, in bays and river back-eddies—ideal spots to fish from a canoe, or for wading.
A lot of pike fishing is sight-fishing, where polarized sunglasses are used to reduce glare off the water. First, a fish is located by sight, then, casts are made to or beyond the motionless fish to entice a strike. Pike are not as skittish as many other fish so a less-than-perfect cast doesn’t scare them off.
As far as equipment goes, I would suggest an eight weight rod — lighter is good if the fish are smaller — with enough backbone to tire the fish fairly quickly for landing or release. The line should be a weight-forward floating line, or what’s called a bass-bug taper. There are also some heavy weight-forward lines designed for use with pike. Those lines are more expensive than the standard weight-forward line but they work better to get the large flies out to the fish.
Since Pike are not leader-shy, a three to four foot section of 30 pound mono can be
attached to the end of your line. These fish have very sharp teeth and will cut
through a lesser-leader very quickly. Even the heavy mono is vulnerable to nicks and
cuts, so the leader should be checked after each contact with fish. A short length of
very light stainless steel wire can be used to attach to the fly or popper.
For pike fishing, your terminal tackle will be very large compared to what you use for contact with fish. A short length of very light stainless steel wire can be used to attach to the fly or popper.
The streamer and foam popper should be very brightly coloured, and all should be allowed to sit still between a three to four foot, very aggressive line stripping to create a lot of surface action.
When casting in shallow water the pike will come 25 to 30 feet, pushing a “vee” of
water as they race for the lure. Many times you will have more than one fish coming,
and if there is a missed strike, just let the lure sit still, and follow that with a few
very slight twitches.
There isn’t much that can get your adrenaline pumping like a big pike that smashes
the fly right at the side of the boat and gets you completely soaked as well.
Larry Leigh is an avid angler, hunter and all-round outdoors person who prefers to cook what he harvests himself. He is a past president of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and retired hunter education coordinator for the Government of Yukon.