North Dakota Fly Fishing - Fly Fishing for Northern Pike and Small Mouth Bass
Hey, how is everybody? The Fish on the Brain team is feeling great after an awesome trip to North Dakota. We ran up there to get a few days on the water near Bismark, ND. My cousin, Pat Ginder, has been sending me pictures of smallmouth bass and northern pike for a year now begging me to come up and join him for a trip. So, I finally conceded and am extremely happy with the results and the trip. We tried our best to plan the trip for when the water was just warming up enough to find some active fish and get some topwater action on the fly rods. We gave them hell for two days, here is the report.
As I mentioned earlier, we ran out on this trip in a little bit of a do-it-yourself manner. We did have our local knowledge in my cousin, Pat Ginder, who took us out on his boat. Pat was a fly fishing guide for trout on the North Platter river in Casper, WY. Needless to say he is a fishy guy, always has had fish on the brain. Our other adventurer this weekend was my long time friend Cody Pennington. He is the good looking one in the pictures. Our trip mostly consisted of Mr. Ginder guiding the boat around the shallows of Audubon and Devil's Lake while Cody and myself cast endlessly to the banks, trees, points, etc in hope of triggering a bite.
A note here on our targets, the Northern Pike were the main goal of the trip and the Smallmouth bass were the bonus. Both fish were mostly blind casting and stripping subsurface streamers or popping in topwater patterns. With both fish they are a VERY aggressive fish and tend to hit flies with aggression we fly guys rarely get to see, especially in freshwater. Half of the time the pike seem to bite out of anger and rage that there is something cruising their turf. The smallies seem to have an insatiable hunger and think they have a lot larger mouths than they truly do; often taking flies that are nearly as long as they are while we are pike fishing. Neither fish tend to be leader shy, which is great because we use wire when fishing for pike.
Back to the report, I mentioned two lakes above. We went to Devil's lake early Saturday morning, far too early. So, running on only an hour of sleep or so, we got to the lake to find a youth Walleye tournament launching from the dock. Its great to see kids getting out. We also showed up to find the lake turning over, damn the luck. We took a cruise around near the boat launch to find the visibility at about 12 - 18" and the water temperature much lower than what we were anticipating. Bad signs but the FOTB team will not be deterred. In hindsight we should have take off for better water, but we tried to fish some of Pat's honey holes on that end of the lake. We struck out on all accounts for about three hours that morning. Finally, we popped up on plane to try to find some better water. After, some cruising and poking in and out of some big bays we finally found some clear warm water to fish.
What an instant difference. We immediately found fish willing to eat. As soon as we found some willing participants we broke out the topwater to see about accomplishing our mission. The great news is that we found where the fish could see and find our flies. The bad news is we were not able to give them enough incentive to come up to the top and blow up our topwater poppers as we were hoping. After some considerable effort, we abandoned them for some subsurface flies. We were using some baitfish type patterns that rode just sub surface with our wire pulling them down. We found ourselves back in the fish. We stuck with it and pulled a considerable catch of smallmouth and pike into the boat. The smallies were healthy 3-4 lb fish and fight for every inch. The pike were little shorter and skinnier than the prize we were after but still get your heart pumping when you can watch then follow a fly to the boat.
So, day two we found ourselves a little bit better rested and on Audubon Lake. It is a bird conservation area, or at least half of the lake is. Great news, this lake was not turning over and is well known to hold some fine smallies. We had intended to spend the day seeing just how many smallies we could get to eat a fly. They are some of the most fun fish to fight in freshwater. They jump, they run, they head shake, and refuse to give up till the end. Then they typically have pretty good boat manners for a picture before being released back to the water.
As the day got warmer, we had to fight fairly hard to keep on the fish. We ended up needing to find cover, shade, structure and fishing it very hard. In our searches for more weed beds and submerged structure we were derailed by a unique location and adventure. We found a large cut bank with northerns cruising up and down the bank in 1 - 2' of water. What a heart pumping sight! So, back to the wire and pike flies to try to sight fish a few of these cruising Northerns. It was a riot. We didn't catch any of them, but it didn't take any of the fun away from it. We made some great casts to these fish and got a few follows, but never a take. I am not sure if these fish were not feeding, but they seemed more interested in their cruising than our flies. Great time to watch them and see what they would do with a fly presented. It also, raised questions of how many of these beasts had been giving us follows in deeper water without taking a bite out of it?
Unfortunately, shortly after our sight fishing adventure we were weathered off of the water with a quick moving storm, but it was a great end to a fun day on the water. I'm gong to tell everyone now, don't sleep on North Dakota as a formidable fly fishing destination. If you like casting a lot, and enjoy seeing a good strike, I can't recommend it enough. Now get out there and hit em in the mouth!