In Search of Pike with Robert Tomes

"Muskie on the Fly" by Robert Tomes

Despite the rivers having been closed for less than a month, cabin fever has already started to set in.  OK, we could fish stillwaters but with the Pike spawning or having just spawned, we like to leave them for a while to recover, so I thought I would post a short article about a day I spent on the water during last Autumn with Robert Tomes, well-known US fly fishing expert, fly show speaker and author of the book “Muskie On The Fly”

I first contacted Robert several years ago while researching a trip to the US in search of the “fish of 10,000 casts” and we have stayed in touch and become firm friends ever since. For a fishing expert he is a surprisingly humble and really nice guy. He wouldn’t tell you himself but after three decades perfecting his craft he is probably the most successful Muskie Fly Fisherman in the world with numerous world records to his credit. His amazing book – a real “Tomes” on the sport – has proved something of a hit among US fly fishers interested in a new fix and proved invaluable in helping me catch my first Muskie on the fly. I have also managed to bring some of the techniques learned back across the pond and apply them to my Pike fishing in the UK.  A 2nd edition is due out along with new book and video projects in the pipeline to be announced soon.


Anyway, here is a short account of our day afloat…………

The plan was to meet at Northampton Railway Station at 08:30 in the morning and fish one of Northamptonshire’s famed Trout waters for Pike.  Robert had managed to snatch a day whilst on a cycling/business trip in Europe and we were going to see if we could get him his first UK Pike on the fly.  I set my alarm for 04:30 in anticipation of the long drive down to Northampton whilst Robert would be coming via train from London.  Surprisingly the train was on-time and after brief handshakes on platform 2 we set off in search of Pike.

Thirty minutes later, and after a brief chat with the warden, we were on the bankside tackling up and ready to cast a line.  The warden pointed out a couple of spots where Pike had recently been caught in good numbers.  This proved invaluable as it had been quite a few years since I had fished this particular water.  I’d setup with a Rio Outbound Short Intermediate on one rod and the Vision Big Daddy Type3 Sinking on the other rod both on a #10.  You can get away with a floating or sink-tip line on this water but with the bright sunshine we figured the fish would be further down.

After donning lifejackets we set afloat and headed to one of the known spots where an old road enters the water.  These features are great holding spots for Pike.  The blustery conditions meant we had to use the drogue to slow the drift of the boat down.

The first drift is normally spent adjusting the drogue to ensure we get a good drift and basically warming the casting arm up.  On the second drift Robert

Robert Tomes with a fine UK Pike

was into his first UK Pike on the fly.  Not a big fish, only a small Jack but very welcome all the same.  A few more drifts in the same spot produced another fish each.  By now though the wind had strengthened and the fish were taking less time to cover even with the drogue out.  We dropped anchor, but this proved ineffective as it wouldn’t bite on the soft bottom.

A move was required so we decided on fishing a sheltered bay on the east side of the reservoir.  With the westerly wind we figured that the natural food would be blowing into the bay, followed by the trout and in turn followed by the Pike.  The bay itself is relatively deep in the middle but with shallow banks and prolific weed growth around the edge we just knew there would be fish there and so it turned out.

Within a couple of casts we were both immediately into a fish.  Again, not big fish but big enough to give a good account of themselves.  We kept repeating the process with Robert getting two fish to every one of mine.  The fish were stacked up in a tight area facing upwind waiting for their next meal.  Robert then hooked into a fish that was much bigger than the ones we had caught previously.  Trying every trick in the book to throw the hook, the fish went under the boat, around the boat and then tried to get around the drogue.  After a few heart stopping moments we managed to get her in the net.  We didn’t weigh her but we estimated that she was around the high-teens in weight and about 40 inches long.  At the end of the drift we would repeat the process.  Some drifts we would get takes but miss them, whilst on other drifts we had double hook-ups and sometimes we would get multiple fish on one drift.  They key though was location.  If the boat wasn’t positioned precisely then we wouldn’t get a take, that’s how tightly packed the fish were.

Interestingly we got most takes by casting sideways on to the boat and allowing the fly to swing round a little rather than casting directly in front of the boat.  I suppose we could have tried anchoring up, but we didn’t want to spook the fish and besides, I’ve found that anchoring up produces less fish than drifting.  Another interesting thing to note is that most fish were caught on flies with lots of flashy material.  This was surprising as on very clear waters like the one we were fishing, dull flies normally produce more fish so it pays to chop and change things a little until you hit on the right fly/method.

We decided to call it a day around 3pm and we headed back to the boat jetty bruised and battered by the strong winds.  I don’t know how many fish we caught, although I do know that it was a lot.

We stopped off for a pub meal and a pint on the way back to the railway station and we relived the day we had just had and put the world to rights.  It was the perfect end to a memorable day on the water.

If you want to read a more in-depth report of the day, Robert has written a great article with photos to be published in a US fly fishing magazine sometime soon. I will be sure to let you know as soon as it’s available. He also has a feature story on muskie fly fishing in the latest issue of Fly Rod & Reel magazine although I have not been able to get a copy yet here in the UK.


If you want to learn more about fly fishing for Muskie then I can thoroughly recommend purchasing a copy of Robert’s book.  You can purchase a copy by clicking on or via any major book retailer like Amazon.