Lure or fly? This is a commonly asked question when deciding which method to employ on the kayak. It’s a toss up between the easy management and pinpoint delivery of the lure rod versus the subtlety and control of the fly. Both are great ways to catch fish, allowing the angler to go light and get the best out of their chosen quarry as well as keeping gear to a minimum and not taking up too much precious space on the kayak.
In the UK, weather conditions tend to dictate my chosen method, usually taking the lure rod on more windy days and keeping the fly rod for the calmer days when it can be enjoyed without the wind playing havoc with both your casting and/or kayak control. On occasions I will take both types of rods with me but this is generally to target two different species of fish. This was up until a recent trip that changed my thinking. My wife Jo and I had pencilled in the diary for a day’s pike fishing on the fly and with the date rapidly approaching I started my pre trip preparatory ritual of checking the weather with ridiculous frequency. On this occasion the wind seemed to be reading a constant of 18mph, a bit on the breezy side but on a small sheltered river it could be do-able.
Our winter fishing trips normally take place on Sundays due to me playing rugby on Saturdays and this trip was no exception. The rugby game was a local derby that was destined to be a bruising encounter. Needless to say, I woke up on the Sunday with a thick head and feeling as stiff as a board. Casting a fly was not going to be enjoyable. I decided that I would take my jerk bait rod, bait caster reel, and a selection of soft and hard baits. Jo on the other hand was still keen to use her fly rod.
Everything was aching as we took the kayak off the roof of the truck and paddled up river to our fishing area. The water was slightly coloured and due to recent rains the water level was high. Jo had the first casting session whilst I controlled the kayak. She used her Vision Big Daddy #10 rod to punch her large homemade fly through the gusty winds. After half an hour of fruitless retrieves we started to think the increased water levels may have put the fish off or that the fly just wasn’t creating enough disturbance in the coloured water. I decided to give the lure a try. I clipped a nice big Spro Pike Fighter lure in yellow pearl. “That should wake them up,” I said to Jo. I cast out to the far bank and started my retrieve. The lure made a lovely clicking noise as its jointed body wagged from side to side. It had only trawled about 5 feet before it was engulfed by a large toothfilled mouth.
The pike shook her head two or three times before flanking round into the middle of the river but after a gentle bit of pressure applied through my Spro Ruff 30-85gr jerk bait rod, a nice pike was soon yakside. Jo and I fished on with more confidence and I quickly added a smaller second fish and then a third to our tally. The disturbance caused by the hard bodied lure was making fishing with the fly a pointless exercise.
The sun started to peek out from between the clouds, something that would surely only increase the sport as it penetrated the water and vastly increased visibility. We came to a bend in the river, a spot that I was confident I would catch another pike with my impressive wiggling lure. I cast near to the bank again and started my retrieve expecting a take at any time, but it didn’t happen. I couldn’t believe it! As the lure came in close to my kayak, I watched its movements intently through my Costa Blackfish sunglasses and noticed a perfectly camouflaged killing machine following it. The pike stopped about a metre away, so I gave the lure a figure of eight to try and induce a take. The fish wiggled its dorsal fin in the same way an agitated cat might wag its tail, and then slunk out of sight. My gut feeling was the fish had not spooked, so I told Jo to flick her fly out in the general direction of where the fish had headed.
The blue and purple tube fly landed without hardly causing a ripple and started to sink. Whack! The fish shot up and nailed it without any hesitation. Jo’s reflexes were lightning fast as she strip struck the fly into a solid hook up. This fish didn’t really give a very good account of itself and came in more like a scolded dog than the apex predator of its watery domain. With the sun reaching ever higher in the wintery sky it gave me an idea. Up until then Jo and myself had been taking it in turns to fish whilst the other controlled the kayak. At the next fishy looking spot I decided to draw the Nucanoe into the reeds at the side where they would hold us out of the wind. I cast out the same as usual, working the water in front like a clock face. After my 6th cast, I clipped up my lure and told Jo to have a chuck with the fly covering the same water that I had just minutes before. It only took two casts for her to strike into a fish; it was a small jack pike but a fish nonetheless. We paddled a bit further and performed the same procedure. This time my lure had a little non-aggressive bump, but as soon as Jo laid the fly into the same area, ‘bang’ she was in again! With the clarity of the water increasing, the willingness of the pike to take a large noisy lure was dwindling but it was still working as a great stimulant and the subtleness of the fly was inducing a take nearly every time.
Although Jo was having some fantastic sport with the jack pike that were readily choosing her fly over my lure, her competitive side was starting to get the better of her. I could tell it was eating her up inside that I had still caught the biggest fish of the trip. We moved into some deeper water, just the sort of spot that might hold a big girl. Again I cast out first, retrieving my lure at a steady pace, drawing it up alongside the yak. Then we saw her, a magnificent fish dark green with bright yellow mottling and a back as thick as your thigh. Due to the close proximity of the fish, Jo had to perform a half arsed attempt at a bow and arrow cast, but to my amazement it worked, the fly landed 30cm off the pike’s nose and the big girl inhaled it. The fish exploded from the middle of the river but before Jo could boast about how accurate her casting was, the fish had twisted and shook the hook leaving the line and fly to come bouncing back into our faces. The look of dejection on Jo’s face was clear and I won’t repeat the next few words that passed her lips.
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We started paddling homeward realizing our chance of boating a big fish had probably passed. Cruising into the last fishable area before our exit spot, we decided to have a few casts onto the far bank into a shallow channel with a drop off back to the main river. A floating barrier spanned the width of the channel stopping boats and other kayaks from entering. This looked the perfect spot for a last gasp fish. I cast the lure down the length of the drop off which was just to the right of the barrier, as I retrieved the lure I was expecting a take or follow at any moment but it never materialised. As I lifted the lure out Jo made a cast into the shallow water down the left hand side of the barrier. I was just about to say to Jo that she should focus on the right hand deeper side when a bow wave shot out of cover and Jo’s rod was nearly ripped out of her hand, but she kept her nerve and buried the size 6/0 partridge absolute predator hook to the bend and the fish was on! The next problem to solve was to stop the lively fish from diving under the barrier and breaking the line. Jo locked the reel up with her hand and submerged the top two sections of the bent rod into the river to improve the angle and bullied the fish out into the open. The ploy worked and the fish turned for the shallows, but the fight wasn’t over yet as the line managed to get wrapped around one of the wooden floats in the barrier and Jo had a couple of tense moments flicking the line out with the rod tip as the crazed pike continued to fight at the other end. Fortunately, once the line came free everything else went to plan and a nice double figure pike was netted much to Jo’s relief!
The idea of using the lure and fly rod in tandem worked really well on this occasion and it is definitely something I will continue to try in upcoming trips. It will be interesting to see if it will be successful in different water conditions and for other species of fish. But, first things first… I’ve got to try and sneak out of the house to try and catch that massive fish Jo lost, all without her knowing. Shhhhh!!