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Big strides in modern pike fly fishing

Mark Bowler finds hook and wire-trace developments have revolutionised pike fly fishing

Smaller pike can be held, in the water, by slipping the finger(s) inside the gill-cover. The hook is twisted out using artery fo
Smaller pike can be held, in the water, by slipping the finger(s) inside the gill-cover. The hook is twisted out using artery fo

I find the phrase "there's nothing new in fly fishing" one of the most infuriating and ill-considered of put-downs. On the surface, our sport hasn't changed since Claudius Aelian wrote of the Macedonians dancing an artificial fly dressed with "cock's wattles the colour of wax" on the river's surface back in Roman times. That's one of the things I like about it. However, beneath fly-fishing's tranquil surface there's enough ideas, design and development that could run the modern automobile industry a close second.

I saw this first-hand last week, whilst fly fishing for pike down in Wales with Mike Duxbury and David Wolsoncroft Dodds. Hang on a mo. I can hear you thinking, wasn't fly fishing for pike popular in the 1850's? Well, yes it was, but that's where the similarities end. I wasn't 'dapping' a barbed butcher's meat hook on a strand of piano wire, dressed with bulk of the plumage from a plucked peacock. For the record, I was using an ultra-light, tip-actioned, nano-resin, nine-weight, coupled with a matching line steeply tapered at the front to turn over bulky flies fashioned of racoon zonker strips with Flexament heads. But that isn't the point I want to make here. 

There were two revelations which have pike fly fishing so much more accommodating, far easier, and so much less damaging on the fish. The first was the wire trace we used. Wire comes with three disadvantages: it's difficult to 'knot' and thereby attach it to the leader and also the hook: it kinks, often soon after using it; and fish can see it.

Or rather, this was the case. The wire we used was 30lb Rio Powerflex Wire Bite Tippet. This stuff is so flexible, thin, supple and smooth it is a revelation. No Hay Wire twists or Albright knots required here: simply Double Grinner it to the leader, and for the hook, use a Non-Slip Loop Knot; it behaves like monofilament. I thought back to the problems we had with wire traces whilst targeting tigerfish in Zambia a decade or so ago, and my only thought was: "if only…" Even after a number of pike – fish up to 16lb – the only damage to the trace was the stripping of its nylon coating. Oh, and still no kinks.

The second – and more important – point was the hook we used. Ad Swier, from the Nertherlands, is well known as a pike fly fisher – it is his favourite quarry, and the hook he has perfected with Partridge – the Absolute Predator Fishing Hook (code CS45) – changes the face of pike fly fishing. Wide-gaped, off-set, relatively thin wired, barbless, with an upturned point has a straight eye and can be used for all predators. It's a good hooker, but where it really scores is in the unhooking stakes. Most predatory fish, for all their aggression, teeth and muscle, are actually very fragile and need to be handled quickly and carefully once landed. Of course, because they are aggressive, large, toothy and powerful they are naturally one of the most difficult of fish to unhook, too. So, we have a problem. Or rather we did have a problem. The speed and efficiency with which this hook can be removed with the aid of long-nosed forceps is astonishing. Bring the fish to the boat, slip the fingers through the inside of the gill cover, lift the pike's head, clip your forceps to the shank, and twist. Pike released, and swims away so quickly that it possibly more bemused, than stressed or damaged. Even a deeply hooked fish can be slipped off the trace in a trice. No angler damage, either – a pike's teeth can slice open flesh like a razor.

OK, you have to be careful with this hook. Any slack line and you are in danger of losing the fish. No problem, it simply means your skills at playing are tested to maximum. Especially when you realise that any weed sliding down the leader can easily work as a disgorger, and lever out the hook-hold! Tight lines, literally.

Mark Bowler has just compiled the Haynes' Manual of Fly Fishing, which is due to be published at the end of 2016.

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