Possibly one of the most common questions I get asked by both newcomers and experienced pike fly anglers is how to convert following pike into taking fish.
In years gone by it was simply a case of stripping the fly back to the boat, raising the rod upwards and backwards and “hanging” the fly! If a fish was following there was a fairly realistic chance of a hook up.
As pike fly fishing gets more popular and fish are seeing far more pressure, I no longer regard stripping a fly back to the boat and “hanging” it a great method, and I now use this technique simply to see if anything is following with the hope one might take!
If we are followed by a fish off any great substance, or we are getting multiple follows in one specific area, it will be marked on the sonar or a marker float dropped over the side and we will re-drift these fish with an alternative method. There is, however, a slightly more extreme method we will look at shortly where “hanging” the fly can be deadly.
To convert follows into takes we must first be able to understand what’s actually going on and have the ability to read the fishes body language. Water temperatures, the time of year, and the amount of fishing pressure can all have an effect on this.
How to Convert Following Pike
The ‘I Want It’ Follow; Thee first type of follow we will look at is one of the most common and easiest to convert into a take. This is where the fish is hot on the tail of your fly, it really wants it, but doesn’t fully commit. This is where you usually run out of room or line and have nowhere left to take the fly and the fish slips back into the depths. These fish are usually “switched on” and following waiting for the slightest change in the flies behaviour. This can be achieved by increasing the speed of the retrieve as the fly gets closer to the boat, couple this with a sharp directional change and those hot fish can be converted to takers!
I mark all my sinking pike fly lines with glo-brite floss 15ft back from the front loop, covered with Fulling Mill UV Glass Resin. When this marker leaves the water and starts coming down the rod eyes I now know exactly how far my flies are away from the boat, then the retrieve speed can be increased and at the right moment or the rod can be swept to the side to give your fly a sharp directional change.
The Lazy Follow; The next type off follow we will look at are those lazy fish that follow at a short distance behind the fly, they never seem to have any great intention of taking it and slink back off into the depths with a cheeky wink. These fish can be forced into to taking your fly, or as my good friend and fishing partner guy Eldridge would say “make em ‘av it boy!”. The technique is to set up with a Di 7 line, short leader and fairly bright fly like one of the Clydesdale Silver Perch from Fulling Mill. The cast is made and the line is allowed to sink well down in the water column and then stripped back at lightning speed, and I mean lightning speed! You honestly can not pull the flies back quick enough. Takes usually come on the directional change as the sinking line rises toward the boat, or when the fly is hung boatside. This is the only time I have any great confidence in a hung fly. Now let’s bear in mind we are fishing over areas we have already marked and we know there are fish about, this technique usually brings success fairly quickly so if you haven’t hooked up within a half-hour to forty minutes, stop and move on there’s no point burning yourself out for no reward!
The Ghostly Follow; So let’s break this down even further and look at the lazy follows from the fish that stay well behind and below the fly, these can be the most difficult to tempt and at times extremely difficult to even spot. These follows can quite easily go completely undetected and to the unsuspecting and inexperienced pike fly angler, most likely will. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there. These fish rarely rise through the water column to intercept a fly and more often than not stick on a level plain.
This brings me to a session Guy Eldridge and myself had in the spring last year in the north arm of Rutland. We had fished the area very successfully for the two days previously with both of us taking pike over the 20lb mark. Day three seen the action and follows completely stop, or so we thought, after several hours of nothing guy clicked on to the fact he was getting follows but they were the lazy well below and behind type that was difficult to see in the slightly coloured water. He changed his technique to suit the follows, the fly was stripped back to around two rods length off the boat then stopped and allowed the fly to drop well down through the water column and watched his fly line where it entered the water, it brought almost instant success with the pike grabbing the fly and taking off as it slowly dropped down to their level. Guy then proceeded to catch 9 pike to just over the 25lb mark.
Anybody that knows me well will know the importance I place upon dropping a fly down through the water column as a fishing method, this is massively overlooked technique by most pike/predator fly anglers and one that has caught me some of my best pike over the years, as well as it being an important tactic for those hard to catch lazy followers.
Flies like the Clydesdale Silver Perch and Clydesdale Gold Perch are ideal for these tactics as they are tied with the most mobile materials that flutter and move in an enticing manner as they fall through the water column. Couple these with a highly flexable pike wire, like the Fulling Mill 26lb 49 strand, and you will have a killer combination.
Check out this great article from Dougie Loughridge on help choosing the right spot for pike.