Alan Robertson discusses his early attempts at catching pike on the fly

I’ve been playing around with fly fishing for pike for the last few seasons, occasionally taking a fly rod and some flies along with me while fishing for pike with dead-baits, or for course fish on the float, and chucking some fluff at any water where prey fish have been reaching out of the water to escape. But I have to say that I had no success at all and only caught pike with dead-baits. I did take the occasional wander for a couple of hours once in a while with just the fly rod and went through the flies and leader set-up, and after trial and error and some good advice from the Pike Anglers Club forum members I started to get things right. I just couldn’t catch a pike!
On these trips, I was throwing flies at likely spots - under the boats at Upware, the junctions with Wicken Lode and at Pout Hall corner - any features such as the bridge at Cock-up Bridge and reed beds got some fluff thrown at them too. There just weren’t any fish taking my flies - or maybe not even any fish about. Just before the end of last season I had a go on the Stretham stretch of the Old West and met a man who put me in the direction of a pike. After a couple of casts I got my first pike on the fly, and after that I got a couple more on the Lode; all on the same fly. That was, however, until I got it snagged up close to the edge and lost it. So for this season, I set myself the task of getting my head around fly fishing for pike, only taking the fly rod to go after them. I had sorted my set-up: I had a 9/10 weight rod with a reel and some 10 weight floating line with a braided loop attached to 6ft of 30lb fluorocarbon, a swivel and two feet of titanium wire trace and a fastach clip at the end for easy change of fly. I use floating line most of the time for the Lodes as it is only about 4ft deep; although I have had a go with a sinking line and a buoyant fly so that each pull takes the fly down, coming back up as you stop. I have tried some wires and also the two different steel braided traces. When the wire kinks it should be replaced, the titanium is stiff and doesn’t kink easily and the “armoured” braid can be straightened out between your fingers - so I tend not to use the wire for fly fishing. Up until that point I had been using commercial flies, all of which were quite long. They are often made with a heavy hook with light materials, but some are on light hooks with materials that don’t shed water and make casting difficult. So I started tying my own flies. After watching a few rushes of prey fish escaping a hungry pike and casting a large fly towards it, but coming out with nothing, the penny dropped. Although there were larger roach around - people were catching them - the fish coming out of the water were all about two or three inches long, and my commercial flies, which were all five or six inches long, were not being touched. The first few attempts at tying a “roach” pattern were not pretty but I started getting pulls from fish more and more often; not connecting with all of them but the response told me I was getting there. A few flies later and I was catching a few pike, not the biggest but I think I was catching or getting follows from those that were there. I’m still not sure if I wasn’t catching before because the fish weren’t there or they just didn’t like the look of the flies. I was confident in getting the attention of the pike that were there so maybe they weren’t there when I was fishing before. The Lodes can be a bit moody at times but it was probably a combination of both. So, this season’s pike fishing was successful: I did what I set out to do at the start of the season - sort out my fly fishing for pike. I’ve had lots of funny looks from people walking their dogs and from people having a good look and the occasional question as to what I’m fishing for. Most people just look at me as if I’m from Mars and walk on. I did, however, have a chat with two lads out pike fishing when I caught the last hour of daylight. They’d been there all day and were just packing up. One of them had had a run and lost the fish at the bank. By the looks on their faces I think they thought I’d just been let out; they kept looking at me, then at the rod, then at me then the rod again. I felt a nip on the fly as they were walking past me on their way home, then another, then the line zipped across the water and I was into a nice 9lb pike. The one at the back was just shaking his head as he walked off. I had a good couple of weeks then, just around Christmas time, then a very cold Saturday and everything went quiet again, only one man I met had caught one and it was quite busy for the Lode. It was his first time out fishing for pike so I was pleased he was the one to get a fish. It hasn’t really recovered around the Upware stretch with only the odd fish coming out as far as I’m aware. There have been other fish being caught elsewhere on the Lodes, the problem is finding them; they have so much water to move in. From Upware, all the way to Reach, or Burwell, or up into Wicken Lode and the National Trust land where there’s lots of cuts, drains and deep ditches to get to. There must be miles of water for them to roam and for us to cover to find them. One of the advantages of fly fishing and lure fishing for the pike is that you don’t need to carry much gear. Just rod, some flies or lures, a landing net and some unhooking tools. One thing I have noticed over the last couple of seasons on the Lodes is that the times when I catch fish of any description have changed. When I first started fishing again I used to get the odd fish throughout the day. I can’t remember when it was, perhaps two or three years ago, but the Lodes were plagued by cormorants and I’m sure a good stock of fish flew away on the insides of these hungry birds. This, I think, drove the fish to be much more cautious, and I found that the middle of the day was very quiet, with most fish moving about either early morning or the last hour of light into the first hour after the sun goes down. This has made me venture out for the last hour of light more often than any other time this season. It helps that it fits in quite well sometimes as I can catch an hour or so on my way home from work, making a nice end to the day. Although I mostly went for pike this year, I did get out on the Lodes with a float rod and some bait for anything in front of me. My youngest came with me a couple of times, catching more than me as usual. He has a knack of getting to the perch, of which there are many in the Lodes, some big ones too. He took one of his mates for his first go at fishing and I’m glad to say we did get him hooked into a fish or two and hopefully fishing as a whole as well. As well as my son’s mate, another member and I went to the Lode with a couple of friends from work recently, for their first fishing trip for a number of years. We didn’t pick a good day to go, sitting on the bank watching floats move only because of the cold northerly wind blowing into our faces. It was freezing, the water was crystal clear, so much so, a dead bait we had out didn’t need a float or bite alarm, we could see it clearly on the bottom!! We didn’t catch a thing, other than a cold that is, but they all want to have another try in warmer weather. I’ll try to make sure I get out early on the morning of the 14th, the last day of the season, before going to work - even if it's only for an hour: it's a tradition. I start trout fishing from the beginning of April but I'll have the odd trip back to the Lodes, probably when the weather is warmer and the evenings are longer; and then back to more serious pike fishing again in autumn.

Alan Robertson