The take was unlike anything I’d felt on a fly rod and the headshake was enough to kill most prey. The sleek body torpedoed out of the water, once, twice, then three times, showing off the white and red rabbit-hair streamer each time. The jumps ignited a series of whoops and cheers from my fishing partner and I. The fly rod bent, keeping enough power to guide the pike toward the boat. When the thrashing finally eased, I slipped on a leather glove and pulled the pike from the water. The freshwater wolf measured 33 inches and, to that point, was the most exciting thing I experienced with a fly rod.
Northern Pike ( Esox lucius ) rarely get the affection from fly anglers like trout, but they are nonetheless one of the strongest freshwater fish in North America and can be found readily available across most of the continent. Their strikes and initial runs are violent and furious, but what is your best choice for fighting these water wolves?
An eight weight fly rod is probably the best weight fly rod for pike.
The eight weight may lack the action to chase trout, bass and other panfish, but if you’re looking to specialize in hooking true monsters found in the northern regions of the continent, certain factors will keep the eight in your hand. And for the price, there may be no better rod than Redington’s Path. I’ve already taken this fast-action rod on fresh and salt with no problems on either. The casting action cut through coastal winds and provided a strong enough flex to reel in several northerns. The Path’s best attribute, however, may be the price. The winning’s from one fantasy football league, were more than enough for my Path and a reel to go with it.
The two best times of year to strip streamers for large northerns are spring and fall. Pike are generally found feeding in shallower waters and are highly aggressive. This is also your best time to catch a real lunker over 20 pounds, as the biggest fish come up from depths generally too deep for a streamer.
The problem with those seasons here in Montana, as other northern states, is the weather can be unpredictable at best. High winds, rain and snow aren’t out of the question on even the sunniest bluebird days. Like fishing on the salt, you need a rod that can power through those rough weather conditions.
A heavier rod is going to require heavier line and luckily pike don’t need the finesse of light line, allowing you to power a weighted line forward.
Also consider you may have line with a weighted tip and you can really rip through the wind.
A nine weight also cuts through the wind like a knife through butter, but you may be hard pressed to find a sizeable fish to merit using a rod that size.
Big Flies for Big Fish
Your flies will add even more weight to your casting equation. Throwing a 14 inch streamer through the harsh weather requires even more power. Six and seven weight rods won’t be able to cast the larger flies as well and the larger the rod the harder it is to cast all day long.
You will also be targeting weed beds for most of your day, as that is where pike prefer to lurk, and you are going to need a rod stiff enough to pull that streamer through the weeds. Again a nine weight or higher can do this job well, but may be overkill for the fish size and if you are still getting used to casting a heavy rod, you may wear out your arm in a short amount of time.
Smaller pike on a clear day may merit using a Path in seven, or even six weight, but when the true bruisers come up from the depths in spring and fall, your rod better have a stout spine to handle the ensuing fight. A 40 inch, 20 pound pike is a trophy, but not unheard of here in Montana.
If luck is with you and you hook into anything larger, your eight weight will have enough strength to handle the fish, albeit with a little skill
The Fight Doesn’t Last
As much fun as pike are, they are sprinters, not marathoners and it shows after their first run. Being an ambush predator that hides in the weeds, pike have little need for long chases, so their take is aggressive, the splashing and thrashing are astonishing and then they begin to wear out, without many long runs.
You’re not going to need significant stopping, or turning power to stop a pike, like you would a salt fish. Your spine needs to weather the initial storm and sometimes pull a fish off the bottom of the lake or river. You don’t need a work horse fly rod in this situation, just enough stiffness to pull a fish from the weeds.
This last spring on Flathead Lake in western Montana a friend of mine hooked into the pike of a lifetime. The 40 inch behemoth hardly took any runs, however and most of the fight felt akin to bringing up a slightly irritated spare tire. While his eight weight did bend nicely, it was more than enough for the job.
A wise man once said that the eight weight is the five weight for big fish and he was right. Most pike habitat is prime habitat for bass and other game fish. When the pike aren’t biting, you won’t need to rig up a new rod, just change flies. Your eight weight will handle all other fish species just fine, giving plenty of play to smallmouths, largemouths and even walleye and sauger.
When that trip of a lifetime arrives and you get your first crack at casting on the salt, your eight weight is going to do just fine from everything from permit and bonefish, redfish and jack crevalle. You’ll be hard pressed to find another rod weight that can handle everything from smallmouth bass to a thirty pound red fish.
It’s up to you
The great thing about fly fishing is, there is no right or wrong rod. Fishing is all about personal preference, and ultimately whatever feels best in your hand, casts the way you want and boats fish is the rod you should fall in love with.
The Eight Weight Pike Rod Summary
For my money, The Path provides the action and toughness needed for pike of almost every size and in every condition. The Path is my go to eight weight and you will never catch me on a pike water without it.
Have a different opinion? What’s your favorite rod for pike? Comment below, we’d love to hear from you!