June 20, 2008

Pikes’ Scarcity Takes Its Toll

By Ed Dentry

The swirl in the chop said northern pike. When the fish gulped the guy's bunny streamer, it showed nothing of itself. But you could see the boil, and it was profound.

So was the bend in his fly rod. The beast sulked, as if it were thinking things over. Then it poured on the coal and pulled free.

The hapless angler left without commentary, which said volumes about fishing's mood on this breezy day in the shallows at Taylor Park Reservoir. That was his chance, and he blew it.

The word is, pike have been in the shallows at Taylor and other cool reservoirs with sun-warmed flats, this being their shallows season. The water temperature in the bay was perfect, 58 degrees.

When I need a confidence boost for sundry species, I consult the spiral notebook Gary Soucie wrote in 1985. In the list of preferred water temperatures, Soucie's Fishing Databook says northern pike prefer the 55- to 65-degree range.

You can take it to the bank. On some June days, northern pike will cruise past your knees. Sometimes they laze in water inches deep, spotted fins waving at the sun.

Generally speaking, it's happening here, at 9,300 feet in the mountains. It's happening at Elevenmile Reservoir, 8,500 feet; and lower down at Williams Fork, Vallecito, Stagecoach, Harvey Gap and a few other reservoirs.

But, except for one stranger's brief encounter, it wasn't happening Wednesday.

It was windy in the old bay, and dam operators have dropped Taylor's water level, obviously to make room to catch melt from the heft of snow that still hangs tough in the Collegiate Peaks.

There is no grass in the shallows this year. But, of course, pike like grass. There are rocks to trip you up, there is boot-sucking silt, and when the wind blows from the west, it murks up the playground.

A tourist in a black cowboy hat riding a silver pickup with Texas tags pinned the trouble. (If you are fly-fishing for pike, you are shallow enough to have conversations with passers-by.)

"Are they feeding yet?" he shouted over the diesel thrum.

"Do they ever?"

"It must've been that little ol' front came through. All right then."

Of course, there is more at work than the fondness of Esox lucius for sunny flats. That little ol' front sent pike to the deep. It happens.

But we cast anyway because fishermen are optimists and because, in our tropical dreams, all this practice throwing a long line and heavy fly might pay off on a bonefish flat.

There are good reasons to fly fish for northern pike, and they have nothing to do with any kind of elitism or self-imposed sporting handicaps.

It's the best way.

The hardware fisher slings things that rattle and either float, sink or retrieve just too fast. From splash to angler, their course is linear, with no diversions.

Bait fishers mostly sit and wait for something to swim by and swallow their offering, typically with fatal results.

Streamers, bucktails and bunny fur flies are neutral in the water. You can let them sink slowly, jiggle, then sink some more, or skim the surface at jet-ski speeds.

You can cast and retrieve flies around curves, speed them up in zigzags or fish them dead in the water.

When the pike gloms on, it takes you for a ride. There is no lure or lead weight to detract from its power. It's you and the water wolf.

That would be some other day down the pike in the next couple of weeks.

Originally published by Ed Dentry, Rocky Mountain News.

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