Sunday, April 21, 2013

Do northern pike eat insects?

As definitive as that answer is, it still doesn't do the subject justice. Northern pike, Esox lucious, the water wolf, LOVES bugs.
Does it surprise you that this fish, basically the freshwater barracuda, would even bother with something as small as a fly? It really shouldn't because EVERY fish loves bugs.
We have caught lake trout in the old days when it was legal to keep them that were so full of carpenter ants that you couldn't squeeze another ant into their stomachs.
Mayflies. Photo from Ojibway Nature Centre, Windsor, ON
Last June I got a rare chance to go out fishing late in the evening and tried my luck with northern pike. It was a bad choice because pike usually quit hitting as the sun sets. I worked along a shoreline with little success until I noticed splashing at the back of a weedy bay. There was so much going on I guessed it was a bunch of ducks feeding and went closer to investigate. To my astonishment, the entire surface was boiling with fish swirls.
I paddled cautiously closer and saw what the fish were eating: small black mayflies. I had been casting a spoon and tried this lure with no success. There were so many fish that I could see them, dozens and dozens -- all northern pike! All you had to do was keep your eyes on one of the mayflies for a few seconds and a pike would materialize beneath it and, with a swirl, the mayfly would disappear.
Of course, I didn't have a fly rod with me, just a spinning rod and reel. I put on a small Mepps spinner, probably a #3 and caught a couple of the pike but considering how many fish I was seeing, they were clearly ignoring my bait. I switched to a surface lure, a Zara Spook, and probably caught one more fish. Meanwhile the pike feasted on the mayflies all around my boat. If I would have been able to cast out a dry fly, I'm convinced I would have caught one fish after another.
Insects are highly nutritious and would seem to offer fish a high-calorie substitute to minnows.
Mostly, fish eat aquatic insects in their nymph stages. Creatures like mayflies and dragonflies spend most of their lives underwater and only emerge briefly as adults to mate.
Walleyes are well known for their mayfly-eating habits. In Whitefish Lake, near where we live in the winter, dragonfly nymphs are the main food of walleye. In fact, there are no minnows in this lake at all.
On Red Lake, we have had many fly fishermen go after northern pike, but they always use streamer flies that sink.
The challenge in dry fly fishing for pike is how do you deal with their razor sharp teeth? When using streamer flies you can fit a tiny wire leader to the eye of the hook but this would sink a dry fly.
My thought is to make a leader out of conventional braided or fusion fishing line. Pike have a difficult time cutting this. You might need to treat it with fly fishing waterproof dressing so that even this line doesn't sink your dry fly.
This technique would work the best when the fish are feeding on mayflies. There are many species of these and they emerge at different times but basically from early June to mid-July.
You can also fish with a dry fly with a spinning rod and reel by using a small bobber to add weight for casting. Again, you might need to treat your line with dressing so it doesn't sink the fly.

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