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Pike on the Fly – My Quest Continues

Pike on the Fly – My Quest Continues
Posted in: Fishing Articles

Several years ago a long-time buddy and I determined we were going to try to catch as many different species of Master Angler-qualifying fish on the fly as we could. He lives in Winnipeg, while I reside in Edmonton, so it gave us an excuse to spend a few days fishing together every year. For those not aware of it, Master Angler is a Travel Manitoba program that’s the oldest of its kind in North America, recognizing anglers who catch trophy fish. Those who catch qualifying fish receive certificates of achievement, a variety of  badges and pins, and designation in their record book. It’s a very popular program that celebrates fishing and fishermen. You can check it out at Master Angler Home (travelmanitoba.com)

Early season pike are well-suited to fly anglers.

My friend and I decided we would kick off our quest by trying to catch Master Angler (MA)-qualifying smallmouth bass on the fly. The first year we struggled, but in our second season we both landed qualifying bass on Tooth Lake, in eastern Manitoba’s Nopiming Provincial Park. We were off and running!

This smallmouth bass kicked-off my pursuit to catch Master Angler qualifying fish on a cast fly.

We determined that northern pike would be next on our hit list. To qualify for the MA program, a pike has to be 104 cm (41 inches) long; that’s a sizeable pike on any tackle, and even more challenging on a cast fly, but we were determined to do it.

Our first year was a disaster. We rented a cabin and boat on a northern lake in Manitoba’s Interlake Region for three days. On day one a storm broke, leaving us cabin-bound as the waves, wind and rain made getting out a dangerous and fruitless endeavour. While we honed our euchre skills considerably, we managed only about two hours fishing, catching nothing but a handful of small pike.

Year two was a little better. We flew into a lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park where we enjoyed three glorious days of sunny weather. We managed to pick up a handful of walleye on the fly and some decent pike. My partner even managed to land an MA-qualifying perch on a big pike streamer, so that was a bonus. Our best pike on that trip was a 39-inch beauty I took on a mouse pattern; a good fish, to be certain, but a little shy of what we needed.

Close, but no cigar! This pike taped out at 39 inches, two inches less than what’s needed to qualify for Master Angler status.

Year three was a complete whitewash. We fished for three days on the Winnipeg River and had little success even finding pike, much less catching them. River levels there are controlled by a dam and can fluctuate considerably, and we just couldn’t seem to locate pike with any regularity. Still, we weren’t about to give up on our quest.

The following year we borrowed a friend’s cabin on a tributary of Manitoba’s infamous Red River that we knew to be an important pike spawning stream. Our first day on the water was largely one of exploration, learning what bays and channels held pike, and we ended the day confident we were zeroing in on some large post-spawn hens. Well, man plans and God laughs. That night the rain fell, hard, and the creek rose. In fact, it rose to flood level—by the following afternoon I had to wear waders to get to the cabin, and at one point we actually watched a fish swim across the access road to the property, a road that had been high and dry just 24 hours earlier. Needless to say, everything in the system changed, including our ability to safely and easily launch and navigate, not to mention the places where pike were holding. Our trip was over as quickly as it had begun.

A flood spelled the end of our MA pursuit in 2022.

The early summer of 2023 was our fifth stab and catching MA-qualifying pike on the fly. We decided to try a new location, Clearwater Lake, just outside The Pas in northwestern Manitoba. We planned on four full days of fishing. On day one, however, the motor on our rented boat began acting up. Clearwater is a large lake, not the sort of place you want to be caught with a failing motor should the wind pick up, so after just a couple hours, and a handful of mid-sized pike, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and turned for home.

The lodge owner was sympathetic to our plight and vowed he’d have a brand new motor on our boat the following morning. And he did. Unfortunately, about 45 minutes from the lodge that new motor unexpectedly started idling back to neutral. This happened with increasing frequency until we had no choice but to turn around. A run across the lake that had taken us three-quarters of an hour going out, took us two-and-a-half hours getting back to camp. After much fiddling and fussing we discovered that it was a fuel and fuel line issue, and were able to repair it, but the day’s fishing was lost.

Fly tackle requirements for pike are pretty simple.

Day three was the first that we could really focus on pike, and we methodically explored a series of likely-looking bays we’d identified on satellite imagery. Our research paid off and we connected with several decent pike, the largest stretching the tape to 38 inches. Good, but not good enough. Still, we were optimistic heading into the last day.

We decided to try a bay in a completely different part of the vast lake. Anchoring in about six feet, we began fan casting large streamers and it wasn’t long before we started connecting. The bay was loaded with pike, including some mature post-spawn fish, and over the course of several hours we wore out a handful of flies. At one point I thought I’d finally hit the magical 41-inch mark, but no matter how much I willed it to be different, the tape consistently showed the big hen to be 40 inches long on the nose. Next year she’ll be bigger I thought, sliding her back into the water.

 

And there will definitely be a next year for us; we’re not giving up on our quest to catch MA-qualifying pike. Because, if the truth be told, our annual trip, as with most fishing adventures, is not really about the fish.

At 40 inches, this pike left me just one-inch shy of completing my MA quest in 2023.

9 months ago
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