Friday, January 18, 2008


These are old photos, as I haven't been pike fishing in a while. The Rio Grande Gorge in northern New Mexico holds Northern Pike that escaped from lakes in Colorado and made their way down the drainage. Later winter, about right now, is one of the best times to fish for them, as the frequently turbid Rio is fairly clear. Also, the pike are pretty cold tolerant and are starting to stock up some calories in preparation for spawning.

In trying for trout, I've had a rough time fishing the Rio Grande up there over the years. The river turns muddy at a drop of rain and has a big drainage. The hatches seem irregular and the trout moody. I've yet to catch a good sized trout and have made several trips that resulted in nice hikes through pretty scenery, but darned little in the way of fishing. I've talked to guys that have gotten into good hatches and caught nice fish, but haven't hit it quite right myself. Part of the problem is I live a little too far away to hit the river that often and I'm not quite in touch with the conditions. Pike, though, have been more consistent for me. I first heard about them via a conversation by other anglers in a fly shop, one guy complaining about a pike glomming onto a nearly-captured trout and breaking his tippet. Later, one of the guys working in the shop gave me a couple of suggestions for finding them.

My first few trips looking for pike met with no real success, although I did get one heart-stopping follow from a nice fish and lost a small one. I tried different flies and changed around set-ups, finally determining that a mini-sink-tip or a sink-tip line and a heavily weighted fly made of Fis-hair or similar material works best. An eight weight rod is about right. The streamers I put together aren't much- a 2/0 hook wound with .035 lead, then mounted with a short wire leader and a six-inch hank of material tied on and wound forward. Coming through the water, they snake along about like a plastic worm on a bass fisherman's line. Also, being simple and cheap, you don't feel too much regret when you hang one on a boulder in the river bottom, which is a fairly common occurrence.

The Rio Grande is a pool-drop river and flows fairly steeply through the Gorge. The trick to finding pike is to find resting water. A nice mud bar or bank is a good sign. The water has slowed enough for silt to deposit and the mud warms up a bit faster in the winter sun light. The other aspect of a successful pike trip is timing and weather. When the lows in Taos don't fall below the upper teens for a couple of sunny days, you stand a chance. You don't want to be on the water before about eleven in the morning. At that point, the sun has warmed the water just enough the fish ought to be getting more active. Once the sun gets off the water, any action usually shuts right down. You're generally finished by three in the afternoon, if not sooner.

You have to get the fly down in the water and casting is generally a bit of a challenge. The walls of the Gorge rise steeply behind you, jagged lava boulders surrounded by fly-grabbing brush, so back casts have to be high and short. Generally, a nice steady retrieve against the current seems to be preferred by the fish, which will frequently follow the fly right up to your feet. Most of the fish I've caught have been around two feet long, with thirty-three inches being the largest I've come across. One interesting thing about the fishing I've done for pike up there is that they will frequently seize the fly in their jaws, holding it so tight that even a vigorous hook-set doesn't pull the lure out of their teeth and lodge the hook in the fish. After a few minutes of fight, the pike simply opens his mouth and swims off. Consequently, setting the hook repeatedly is encouraged.

Assuming you get decent weather, get up to the Rio, then down in the Gorge, then get the fly out and a pike on (and hooked), you are by no means done with the excitement. a pike beached into shallow water will lie quiescent right up until the point where you reach for the fly -using pliers!- whereupon he will start rolling and thrashing, with his mouth open, needle-sharp teeth slashing back and forth. Their jaws are quite tough, so getting the fly back as the fish turns and chops is almost as exciting as the strike. You probably won't forget to turn the barb down on your hook twice.

For a late winter distraction, pike are tops. These are wild, big, and fairly unknown (locally) fish that not many people bother with that are active at a time when trout fishing is largely an exercise in frustration.

No comments: