1). Find the baitfish, find the pike!
Like any time of year with the exception of spawning time, pike will not be far away from a food source. On large bodies of water a good electronic system is a must, however don’t overlook natural signs like fish eating birds, you can pretty much bet that if there are predators feeding above the water, there will be predators feeding below.
Areas such as river mouths and inlets can be productive areas, these bring with them not only a supply of oxygenated water but a supply of food running in to the main body of water, which in turn encourages in baitfish.
In shallow areas, swans feeding can stir up the bottom which encourages in baitfish and of course, structures like boat moorings and sunken trees act like an artificial reef which is excellent habitat for pike.
Wind lanes are a good place to start when targeting pelagic pike, these create a food super highway.
From this picture you can see a sunken boat on the down imaging, without good electronics you would never find areas like this, which can be very productive during the winter.
We don’t like seeing them in our inland waters but if you see these or other razor bills feeding, it’s a sure sign that baitfish and pike aren’t far away.
2). Slow things down!
Like most of us pike slowdown in the winter and we need to slow our presentation down accordingly. A lot of time they will sit deep at an optimal temperature for digesting food, only moving from this area to feed or at times warm themselves in shallow areas.
Through the winter ill mostly be using a slow, roly poly style retrieve or a figure eight retrieve, with plenty of pauses thrown in. Being able to cast a long line is a benefit, especially when fishing at depth as it gives your fly much more time in the strike zone. I will also pay line out by hand as the line sinks, this allows your line to sink parallel and gives you the optimum length and time spent in the strike zone during your retrieve.
It’s important to keep the line tight and in contact with it as it sinks as a pike can and will at times take the fly on the drop. Often a pike will strike when the fly is on the pause and therefore it is essential that you set the hook if you feel anything untoward. Sometimes the takes can be very subtle.
It’s better to strike at nothing and it just be a bit of weed or debris than not strike and miss your opportunity of a fish. One thing to keep in mind when fishing deep is that pike’s eyes are on the top of their head. So you need to present the fly above them, as if the fly is below them, they will not able to see it!
This fish took as the fly was on a pause. It was a very subtle take but knowing the fly was in open water the decision to strike and set the hook was made easy.
3). Be aware how temperature effects the fish!
At the beginning of the winter before things get to cold, big pike can be found throughout the water column. As the cold temperature gets a hold and the thermocline builds, the oxygen will sink and the fish will sink deeper along with it. This is when you need to get the sink 7 on and get your fly down there. Big fish will move to shallower water to feed if the baitfish are present or to warm themselves but the rule of thumb is: The bigger fish will be deeper in the depths of a cold winter.
Incoming rivers or inlets also effect temperature, as you can imagine fast water coming in off hills through ice and snow melt will have a drastically different temperature than water meandering in through low lying farmland and warming itself off the sun as it goes.
4). Keep your fly in the water!
Winter means short days and you need to maximise your time on the water. When fishing myself I usually don’t stop for lunch but if I do, I usually stop earlier or later as midday can be a key time for getting a hit during the winter.
I also find myself fishing right into dark as again this can often be the most productive time of the day. Again nature gives us signs of activity. If you spend a lot of time outdoors you’ll know the times I mean, when birds become active, from the place being almost silent to going into a chorus from different birds. This can be anything from crows, waterfowl or sea birds or all at once.
Again this is not a time to have a break. Often these times will coincide with moon movement whether it be rise, fall, transit or sub transit. You can load apps now that give you these trigger times and if you are aware of them, its worthwhile fishing through them or even if you have had a follow of a worthy fish. Go back and give it another go at a trigger time, it’ll surprise you how often this proves fruitful.
5). Don’t be scared to fish big flys!
Although I always try and match the size of the baitfish the pike are feeding on and most of the time a 5” fly will suffice, I do believe, especially in winter a big fly can induce a take over a small fly. Again this is due to the fish’s metabolism slowing down and if it can take a big meal in one go, it obviously expends less energy than chasing down loads of small meals. This is when I’ll have my 10wt set up in the boat with me, with a big articulate or tube fly, usually with the addition of a wiggle tail on the back of it. I do favour natural colour patterns over bright patterns, especially in clear water. Roach being my bread and butter throughout the winter as this is often what the pike are picking off in the waters I fish.
Anyone looking for any advice, feel free to get in touch.