A guide to fly fishing for pike

12th of April 2023

Fly fishing for pike is a thrilling experience that combines the finesse of fly fishing with the raw power and aggression of one of the most formidable freshwater predators. In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know to successfully target pike with a fly rod.

Choosing the right gear


When fly fishing for pike, it's important to choose a rod that can handle the size and power of these fish. A 9- to 10-foot rod in the 8-10 weight range is ideal for casting the large flies that your need. Fast-action rods are recommended, as they provide the backbone necessary for setting the hook and fighting this fish.


A sturdy, large-arbor reel is recommended, and a strong drag system is nice, but they won't make very large runs like saltwater predator fish do. But because you are dealing with large heavy fish, it's good to have it.


Since you'll be casting large, wind-resistant flies, a specialized pike fly line is recommended. These lines typically have a short, aggressive taper that allows for better turnover and easier casting of large flies. A weight-forward floating line is the most versatile option, but you may also consider a sinking line if you plan to fish deeper water.

Leaders and tippet

Pike have razor-sharp teeth, so either a wire leader or heavy fluorocarbon shock tippet is a must. A 12- to 24-inch wire leader in the 20- to 30-pound test range will provide good protection against bite-offs. If you prefer fluorocarbon, opt for a 60- to 100-pound test shock tippet. Make sure to regularly check your leader for nicks and abrasions and replace it as needed. Also check your leader after each catch. Pike have sharp teeth and can damage your line easily.

Selecting the right flies

Pike are opportunistic feeders, and their diet consists mainly of smaller fish, frogs, and even small birds or rodents. As such, large streamers that imitate their prey are your best bet when fly fishing for pike. Some popular pike fly patterns include:

  1. Dahlberg Diver
  2. Bunny Leech
  3. Double Bunny
  4. Frog Popper
  5. EP Streamer
  6. Lefty's Deceiver
  7. Flash Tail Whistler
  8. Pike Slider

Choose flies in a variety of sizes and colors to cover different water conditions and prey species. Sizes 2/0 to 5/0 are typically used for pike, and colors such as black, white, chartreuse, and combinations of these colors can be very effective.

If you have a pike in sight but it's not taking your fly, consider switching colors. Sometimes this is all that it takes!

Unhooking mat

A special mention next to your other gear (like a stripping basket): a padded unhooking mat is useful to bring along. This way you minimize the potential damage to the fish.

Techniques and strategies

Casting and retrieving

When fly fishing for pike, it's essential to cover water efficiently and thoroughly. Start by casting parallel to the shoreline, and then fan your casts outwards to cover different depths. Make sure to vary your retrieve, as pike can be finicky and may respond to different retrieve speeds and patterns. Experiment with slow, steady retrieves, fast strips, and erratic jerks to see what triggers a strike.

Setting the hook

Your fly fishers instinct will tell you to lift your rod when a pike takes your fly. Do that, but at the same time also use your line-holding hand to pull the hook into the pike’s jaw. This is called a strip-strike. The reason is that the hook is difficult to set, and this technique provides extra power.

Location and structure

Pike are ambush predators and will often be found lurking around structure such as weed beds, fallen trees, and rocky points. Focus your efforts on these areas, and make multiple casts to thoroughly cover the structure. In addition, pike will often move into shallow, warmer water in the spring and fall to feed, so make sure to target these areas during those seasons.

Safety and handling

Pike are powerful fish with sharp teeth, and proper handling is essential to ensure both your safety and the well-being of the fish.

A pike's mouth is covered in razor sharp teeth
A pike's mouth is covered in razor sharp teeth

When you hook a pike, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Use a sturdy rubber landing net: a large, rubber-coated landing net will make it easier to safely land and control the fish.
  2. Grip the fish firmly: when holding a pike, you should wrap your fingers inside it's gill. It takes one or two tries, but after that it will be easy. See a video below for a great explanation.
  3. Use long-nose pliers or a hook remover: due to their toothy mouths, using long-nose pliers or a hook remover is the safest way to remove the fly from a pike's mouth.
  4. Minimize time out of water: to ensure a healthy release, and like with any fish, minimize the time the pike is out of the water. Take a quick photo if desired, and then gently lower the fish back into the water.
  5. Revive the fish: before releasing the pike, hold it upright in the water and move it back and forth to help it regain its strength. Once it starts to swim away on its own, release your grip.
How to safely grab pike by its gill plates

Conservation and ethics

As fly fishers, it's essential that we practice responsible angling and contribute to the conservation of our fisheries. This is often talked about in the context of specific areas or fish that are considered more rare to catch, but this also goes for pike.

  1. Catch and release: make sure to handle the fish properly and release them as quickly as possible.
  2. Follow local regulations: familiarize yourself with the local fishing regulations, in many countries there are months that you can not target pike or other predatory fish.
  3. Leave no trace: Always pack out any trash, including discarded fishing line, and leave the area as clean (or cleaner!) than you found it.

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