stevekunnath writes "
Lake St Clair is world famous for its smallmouth bass and muskie, but there is also a very productive fishery for Lake St Clair northern pike. In the last few years smallmouth bass and musky have been receiving some huge publicity on this lake, but it seems in all this noise many people have forgotten about the northern pike. This is fine with me since I love fly-fishing for pike, and Lake St Clair is minutes from my home in suburban Detroit. Fly-fishing for this razor toothed voracious predator known as the water wolf is very thrilling. In this article I will share some of my favorite tactics and techniques for Lake St. Clair pike on the fly.
Some of my favorite things about fly fishing for northern pike are how savagely they hit a fly, they give a good fight, grow to a large size, and they are not as difficult to catch as some other species. When a pike hits a fly you definitely know you have a fish, and you better hold on tight since northern pike can attack their prey at speeds of thirty miles per hour. They often follow a fly in and attack it right next to the boat within inches of the surface, causing even the most experienced of anglers to panic! Pike fight very hard and can really put some stress on your fly rod and arms. In Lake St Clair northern pike of 30-35 inches are quite common, and often exceed 20 pounds and reach lengths of 40 inches or more. The tactics for fly-fishing for northern pike on Lake St Clair are fairly easy, and at times they seem to hit anything you throw in the water, especially when your trying to catch only bass. The hard part of fishing for northern pike here is locating the fish that can be spread out over the 420 square miles that Lake St Clair covers.
Where to find pike
Typical St. Clair Northern Pike taken on the fly
The best places to find pike are in weed beds on or near some type of structure. They like to hide and ambush their prey. Finding a large weed bed with a good supply of feeder fish is the key. In Lake St Clair a large part of a northern pikes diet is yellow perch, but a pike will eat anything that swims, crawls, walks, or flies, up to one third of it?s body size.
Best time for northerns
The best times to fish in Lake St Clair for northern pike are early spring and fall, although it is productive all year. In spring northern pike move into very shallow bays and marshes to spawn immediately after ice out, this is usually in late March depending on the weather. At this time of the year they are very aggressive, and after the spawn is over northern pike move out of the shallows and go on a feeding frenzy for a few weeks to gain weight that was lost while spawning. Once summer approaches and water temperatures increase past 60-65 degrees, many of the larger pike seek deeper cooler water. In June the smallmouth bass and musky seasons open, and our Lake St Clair guide service here at Flymart starts to target these species more than pike. As the temperature drops in September, Lake St Clair?s northern pike go on another feeding frenzy to pack on pounds for the coming winter. At this time the smallmouth bass and Musky behave in the same way and all three species can offer a great day on the lake.
What to use for Pike
Stripping in large streamers in various erratic speeds works very well for northern pike. They are famous for following flies right to the side of the boat. A popular technique when this happens is to move your fly in a figure eight right in front of the fish and this can provoke a strike.
On the guide boat we have many different flies that work for Lake St. Clair northern pike. Two of my favorite patterns are streamers such as lefties deceivers and top water flies like the dahlberg diver. I like to use large flies from 5 to 10 inches in length, with lots of flash, and hook sizes from 1/0-4/0. Flies with colors resembling a northern pikes natural food such as perch or suckers work well, and the old famous red and white combination is still popular.
Fly rods for Pike
For Lake St Clair northern pike, fly rods in the 8 to 10 weight class are recommended with a fast action. A 10 weight fly rod helps very much with casting these large streamers and also will come in handy if you hook into one of the giant 45-55 inch muskie that Lake St Clair is world famous for. I always use about ten inches of knot able steel wire between the fly and a 15-20 pound Maxima leader. This is to keep a pikes razor sharp teeth from slicing through your tippet like butter. For casting big flies I like to use Scientific Anglers Pike/Muskie fly line and Scientific Angler or Teeny sinking lines when I want to get down deep.
Handling Northern Pike
On my boat I practice catch and release, and I would like to convince more fisherman to do the same. Many people do not realize that it takes a northern pike almost 25 years to reach a length of 40 inches. I can only imagine how awesome of a fishery this could be if more northern pike were able to grow to a larger size; let it go let it grow. The new fiberglass reproduction mounts now look better, and are about the same price as traditional taxidermy mounts. If you plan on releasing a pike, try not to hold it vertically. Holding a pike vertically can cause damage to its internal organs. I also prefer cradle nets over normal landing nets after seeing them used by guides on giant pike in Northern Manitoba. They make it less difficult to land and handle a northern pike, and are much easier on the fish. While fishing for northern pike on Lake St Clair it is also very important to know how to identify the differences between a pike and a musky, as there is a very high chance of hooking into a muskie while pike fishing.
There are many people that travel to far off places and do not realize the outstanding fishery they are overlooking right here in their backyard in Metro Detroit's Lake St Clair. And those of us who are familiar with what this lake has to offer are definitely grateful. If you have not tried it yet, I would encourage you to get out and experience some incredible fishing for Lake St Clair northern pike.
By Steve Kunnath
Michigan Northern Pike : about the species
Fly Fishing Guide Services on Lake St Clair, targeting muskie, bass, pike and carp with Captain Steve Kunnath
Smallmouth bass on the fly : Lake St Clair
Michigan Carp on the Fly : Lake St.Clair
How to release a pike using a cradle - Tips for handling and releasing pike using a cradle"