With the cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage of autumn, comes the prime opportunity to hunt for toothy critters in the North Country of New England. It's a favorite time of year for our pal Jon Zukowski, owner of Mountain High Fly in Lincoln, NH. Jon is a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to big flies and Esox, and he recently was able to sneak out and hit the water with buddy and photographer Justin Hardesty. Armed with a PAYLOAD 989-4 and some big-ass flies, they managed to fool a few predators together. Lucky for us, Jon kept his digits in tact and was able to write up a short piece on their day searching for North Country Pike. Read on to share in their adventure.
NORTH COUNTRY PIKE
The day started with lowering the drift boat down a steep, mud laden “put-in," as is often the case during a New England pike hunt. Some of the best pike fisheries in the area are tucked away in rather small, difficult to access rivers and creeks. After motoring up to a narrow, winding section of the creek, we began our float in search of northern pike.
The 989-4 PAYLOAD was the chosen tool for the day. Its shorter length and ability to cast larger than average flies was perfect for what we had in store. Many of the small New England rivers that hold pike don’t offer much real estate for a back-cast, and there is often an overwhelming amount of structure where pike can hide. That combination calls for a shorter rod that is powerful, can load quickly at close range, and have enough backbone to punch longer casts and fight some of the bigger fish in the system.
As for a line, I use the RIO Coastal Quickshooter XP line to efficiently cast the largest pike flies in my box. This line sports a clear intermediate tip which allows for the angler to use a shorter leader, and it gives larger, more weary fish less to look at; more big pike end up in the boat and don’t go sauntering back to their lair after a follow. Evidence of this came within the first fifteen minutes of fishing when a furious 30” fish came up and inhaled the fly right next to the boat without thinking twice.
After releasing the first fish it was on for the rest of the morning. Pike were shooting out of their woody fortress to destroy any fly placed within a foot of the bank. The PAYLOAD delivered each cast to the proper location with minimal effort and striking accuracy.
Getting a cast into every nook and cranny is key to the game. I was able to get tight, accurate casts deep into structure while keeping the rod out of the low, overhanging branches that canopy the river. Trying to cast a 9’ rod in these small creeks can be a challenge, but the 989-4 PAYLOAD is perfect for them. At 8’ 9”, it really makes a difference. The shorter rod also allows for a better hook set on larger fish, especially the ones that make a last second grab at your fly boat-side. The PAYLOAD is also extremely light weight, especially when paired with the SPECTRUM MAX reel. It’s a setup you can throw effortlessly all day long and go to bed with your shoulder feeling good and ready for more the next day.
Whether the fish are 25” or 45”, the 989-4 PAYLOAD is the perfect tool for pike here in New England, and beyond. Hard-water season will be here before you know it, so get out there and take advantage of this great fishery while you can.
NORTH COUNTRY PIKE
Trying to cast a 9’ rod in these small creeks can be a challenge, but the 989-4 PAYLOAD is perfect for them. At 8’ 9”, it really makes a difference. The shorter rod also allows for a better hook set on larger fish, especially the ones that make a last second grab at your fly boat-side. The PAYLOAD is also extremely light weight, especially when paired with the SPECTRUM MAX reel. It’s a setup you can throw effortlessly all day long and go to bed with your shoulder feeling good and ready for more the next day.
— Jon Zukowski, Mountain High FlyRod: PAYLOAD 989-4 Reel: SPECTRUM Max 9/10 Line: RIO Coastal Quickshooter XP
Follow the links below to learn more about Jon, his shop, and the many angling opportunities the New England area has to offer.
Words & Photography
Editor / Writer Jon is the owner of Mountain High Fly located in Lincoln, NH. He was raised most of his life in the Granite State of New Hampshire, and has been fishing with his Dad and Sister since he was a young boy. In addition to running the shop, Jon also ties custom flies for his business On Z Fly.
Photographer Justin is a long-time native of New England, with his roots digging back into the north woods of Maine and the native Brook Trout that also call it home.