Winter Fly Fishing from Kayak

My fishing is pike fishing. It has always been so, and it will probably always remain that way. This applies to pike fishing in general, but pike fishing from kayaks in particular. I like to actively search for the pike with as little fishing gear as possible. A flyrod, some single hooked pike flies, an extra tapered leader and some extra wire in a wallet are all I use in addition to my previous experiences. Unfortunately, “sport fishing” generally goes in a different direction. It appears that more and more anglers build their fishing on the maximum use of technical gadgets and tools, which unfortunately also begins to apply to kayak fishing. The “kayaks” begin to look more and more like boats equipped with everything that just angling boats usually are equipped with. The paddle is reduced to a tool intended to complement other complex propulsion systems of various types, such as mirage, propeller, electric motors and other. No, it’s not “my cup of tea”. Not at all. I n my thinking “less is more”, and that´s why fly fishing for pike, standing from a paddle kayak is what I like most.

Pike fly fishing. That’s what this article is about. It is now, during the winter, that the fly excels over most other methods when it comes to pike fishing in our archipelagos. Now it’s mid January. The winter weather here in the south – east part of Sweden is unusually mild, which means that the bays of the Ronneby and Karlskrona archipelagos still are ice-free and open for fishing. Many years it´s like this year, but far from all years. Usually the ice covers the bays for a few weeks here, usually from the second half of January until sometime in February. You never know exactly. If the sea is open, then you have to grab the opportunity to go for some really nice pike fishing. Then the kayak is the perfect choice. Once all the expensive boats have been taken up from the water for winter hibernation, the kayak lays at the water’s edge eager to glide out in the bays. The starting time is short, which means that you can go out and fish when most people have to sit at home watching fishing clips on Youtube, longing for the next fishing season.

When winter is coming, most pike leave the rocky bottoms in the mid and outer archipelago and migrate into the shallow inner bays, where the water over the thick clay bottoms is slightly warmer. The clay store warmth generated during the previous months. In the bays, the pike can spend the winter and prepare for the early spring’s spawning. As a result, there is a lot of pike in the bays, but far from everywhere. For some reason, the pikes gather in groups. Some groups host mostly smaller pike, while other smaller groups can consist of medium and larger fish. The biggest pikes seem to be solitarians in general. They stand for themselves and, of course, if you’re a little pike, you better stay away from the bigger ones to avoid becoming their dinner. I think that this is the reason why these small and medium-sized individuals are grouping together. Several pairs of eyes see more than one pair… Shallow, often clear water, is not the best environment to avoid detection for a smaller pike. For that reason, the pike often back into the reeds where they can keep hidden more easily, while keeping an eye out for a random prey. For some reason, this seems even more valid when the water level is higher than normal. If the water level is lower, and the water is cloudy, there are more frequent groups of pike in the middle of the bays. How I fish for pike is based these factors.

Conclusion one: It is about searching for pike over a big area. Conclusion Two: Sight fishing is important – use your eyes! Conclusion Three: The pikes often, but not always, stand close to or just by the edge of the reeds.

An other thing to consider is the color of your fly. If I look at how a fish is colored and patterned to avoid discovery, I might conclude that in cloudy weather and diminishing visibility one should use dark flies that contrast well with the sky, which makes it more easy for the pike to discover it. A fish is white or bright over the abdomen and darkly masked over the back, causing it to “disappear” towards the sky if seen from below. Likewise, it “disappears” against the dark bottom if seen from above. Winter weather almost always means poor light and therefore I often use black flash flies with red head. I imagine that the red front trigger the pike. My fly fishing equipment consists of a rod, class eight to nine. I’m not so fond of the stiff fly rods that more and more take over the market, so I use a relatively soft, yet agile rod, as my flies almost always consist of not too large single hooked flies. Of course, a stiffer rod is a better choice if you want to use really big and heavy pike flies. Just choose a rod that suits your preferences and flies. The most important thing is a good balance between line and the rod. Most often, I use a slow intermediate line. I have experienced that I hook more pike when I fish closer to the bottom, although sometimes it´s only about one meter of depth. This is especially true when the water is really cold after a night with several minus degrees. Then it can be almost impossible to lure a pike to leave the bottom for a yummy fly that pulses near the water surface. On the other hand, a fly presented just in front of the its gap is often indulged without any bigger effort from the pike. When the winter weather is mild, with several plus degrees and winds from west or south west, the difference in result using a slow intermediate line or a floating line is marginal.

At the end of the fly line I have attached a tapered monofil tippet, and at the end of it a one-foot long wire (Paraflex). The total length for the leader including wire is approximately equal to the length of my fly rod. The other gear consists of a small box with extra flies, an extra taped monofil tippet and some extra wire. As I have said, less is more. Attached onto the PFD I have a pair of pliers/ forceps that also can cut wire. The last, but for me an important thing, is the line basket. With a line basket, I do not need to reel in the fly line when I’m about to paddle from an anchoring point to another. I simply keep the line loose in the basket with the reel resting on top of it. In this way I can paddle from one point to another with the rod ready for an immediate cast. I have almost always my good friend, Benji The Fishing dog, with me in my kayak, when I’m scouting for pike. Fishing without my best fishing buddy is almost unthinkable. Benji’s fur and waving tail catch up and tangle the fly line very efficiently though, so I really need to use a line basket when we are in the kayak together.

What type of kayak is best suited for this type of fishing? Well, as I mostly perform my fishing paddling standing up, as it facilitates fly casting and the detection of well-masked pikes, I like to use very stable kayaks. Another reason for wanting to use stable kayaks is that my dog, Benji, almost always accompanies me during my pike fishing sessions. He weighs about forty kilos and does not always sit completely still. It can be difficult sometimes, but his joy and good friendship compensate for any possible inconvenience. He is my absolute best friend and I simply can´t leave him behind! The kayaks I currently use the most for my fly fishing are the Jackson Kilroy Delta Tango and the Jackson Mayfly. Kilroy DT is a big kayak. It is designed to be configurated as a single or tandem kayak and very, very stable. Despite its size, it paddles better than any SOT I have used except of the Kraken 15,5. And that´s important, as I almost always have a 40 kilos dog in the front of the kayak. As I know, The Mayfly is the first kayak developed specifically for fly fishing. This means that the Jackson crew worked hard to create a “smooth” kayak without a lot of gadgets that might tangle the fly line while fly fishing. In addition, it is provided with features that specifically facilitate fly fishing, including recessed smooth trays for equipment and special integrated holders for fly fishing rods, one on either side of the kayak. Furthermore, the kayak is significantly lower than, for example, Coosa HD, which means that it “takes less wind” and thus drifts less. It is very stable, significantly more stable than Coosa HD and Cuda HD. Last, but not least, I have to emphasize it´s paddling qualities that are better than for most of the SOT kayaks I used and tested. One can of course perform fly fishing from all fish kayaks. However, it helps if they allow safe standing fishing. A good line basket will keep your fly line from tangling into all kinds of gadgets in any kayak. Many anglers, however, do not like to use line baskets. Then the Mayfly’s features are perfect. The only kayaks I personally could not imagine for my fly fishing are those equipped with any kind of a pedal propulsion system. The reason for this is that, as I said before, I like to stand while paddling between fishing positions and when I´m fly casting. Pedals coming up from the hull is a problem for any fly fishing angler as he or her get the fly line tangled. There are of course others who think differently, and so it should be. There are no truths, only preferences.

The shallow bottom structures are the same all over the bays, which means that you can´t rely on special points where the fish usually stand. The pike can be found in certain areas one day, and have left for another are the next day. Hot areas are often, as said, spots just outside and adjacent to the reeds, especially when the water level is higher than normal. But no rules without exception. Some days you will find groups of pike in the middle of the bays, so it’s important to search the pike efficiently and thoughtfully.  For that reason I don´t fly cast randomly. If the weather is calm, the surface of the water is smooth and the water is clear, I paddle slowly standing up looking for pike, performing sight fishing. Of course, a pair of good polarized sunglasses make this task easier. When I see a pike, or the dust cloud from a fish that got disturbed and just swam away, I know that there usually are several others close by. If the wind is slow, I start flying without anchoring. Is the wind a bit harder, I anchor before I begin my fly casting. It is not uncommon with several contacts within a short period of time. Often a pike attack on the first cast. Successful winter fly fishing for pike can sometimes be described as “rally fishing”. If it blows so much that it is not possible to see what happens underneath the surface, I’m using a drifting bag. Based on past experiences, I choose an area I believe in. Then I put out the drifting bag and fish the area systematically drifting with the wind closer and closer to the reeds. When I get in touch with fish, I put out the ordinary anchor and then fish the nearby area thoroughly for about five to ten minutes. After that I pick up the anchor, drift with the wind an additional fifteen to twenty meters, anchor again and fish the new area. So, I often use a combination of a drifting bag and an ordinary anchor. However, the rate of catches often vary between fly fishermen fishing in the same area. A thing that can make a big difference is how the angler retrieve the fly. The key to success is to vary the retrieve and to make long stops when the water is really cold. Playing with the fly and varying speed is something that almost always leads to success, whether you perform fly fishing or spin fishing. “Play with the bait!”

This article is my attempt to describe the fishing I conduct during the winter when it is cold in the water, ie when there is a water temperature below eight degrees. If you are interested in trying a kayak fishing for pike on the fly, then contact me and I promise to help you. I have both warm and comfortable cabins running during the winter as well as a number of kayaks. Shit fishing!

Gunnar Ahlström –  PikeStrike Sweden

www.pikestrikesweden.com

0046 705 920868

Comments on “Winter Fly Fishing from Kayak”

  1. January 20, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    wow,awesome post..great article you share..its really impressive and effective…

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