A few weeks ago I came out of hibernation and back into the sunlight of FAOL.
I started writing and hosting after a long 'sabbatical.' I guess I needed a
little time off or something. Since I've been back I've gotten a lot of
questions about whether or not I've ever seen or caught the big Northern Pike
that I've chased for the last two years.
It was last September, somewhere near the middle of the month, on a hot day
mid-week. I was out in my little flat bottom, fishing for
crappies along the far shore with my 9' 4wt. Just relaxing, having fun in the
shade, tossing little poppers about the size of miniature marshmallows. I was
really having to practice my roll casting in order to get above the tree roots
sticking out of the water, leftovers from the spring and summer floods, but
keeping the line low enough not to get hung up in the branches of the trees on
shore. The crappies weren't monsters or giant slabs, just good eating size.
The biggest problem was their location, and I think they knew it as well as
me! I'd been there about an hour when all of a sudden the action stopped. To
me that could only mean one thing, a bigger fish had moved in and the crappies
had headed for cover.
I reeled in the 4wt and got out the 6wt. I'd already tied on a copy of a
large yellow/orange streamer that Clive Schaupmeyer had sent me from Canada.
I'd been using them off and on during the summer and they do work well for
bass and larger fish. Little did I know, just how well and how big!
I cast the streamer downstream, the only way I could cast, a sidearm roll cast. It
was a short cast, only about 25 feet. I slowly started working the fly up
stream, slowly, erratic, letting the current play it like a wounded minnow.
As it neared the boat I saw a rise, then nothing, a little swirl in the
current. I carefully gathered the line being careful of the anchor rope that
was tied to the tree stump and cast again, only about 20 feet, with a loud
'Plop.' Sloppy cast but it was out there. I slowly started working it back
towards the boat again, twitching, playing out and mending it in slowly.
Again, about 6 feet from the boat there was actually a rise in the water, like
a hump, or a wave from under the water, coming up to the surface. A flash or
sparkle from something under the water. A bass, a walleye, maybe a northern,
or just the current playing with my mind? It was the wrong time of day for
the big guy to be out. His feeding pattern had been running towards 6:00 and
it was only 3:30. My son, Karl, and I had watched him take a hen mallard just
a few days earlier. Karl was in total awe. He'd never seen a fish with such
vengeance, speed, and killer instinct in fresh water.
I cast a third time, preoccupied with my thoughts instead of the cast. The
line caught the top of the tree root and fell into the water in a heap about 8
feet from the rod tip. I quickly started gathering it in to recast.
Suddenly, the water beneath the line swelled, there was a loud sucking sound,
and the fly disappeared into a huge, toothy maw. It was the monster, the
northern I'd been hunting for the last two years!
The 22 plus pounds of duck eating, flesh, scales, and teeth was on the other
end of my line.
The line that was lying in the water. I didn't know whether to reel in the line or
mend it into the boat with my hand. I chose the reel, figuring at least I
would have some drag control to help with the fight. I started slowly reeling
in the line, not exactly sure if it was hooked or just mouthing the fly.
As the slack line wound onto the reel my anxieties mounted.
Here I am, alone in a 10 ft flat bottom john boat that's only about 45 inches
wide, with a 6wt rod, 9 ft long, that is reaching across a downed stump with
no room to fight or run.
Suddenly, the line tightened.
I hadn't even realized how fast I'd been reeling in the line and suddenly
it was taut. Then it was ripping off the spool faster than I'd put it on.
Downstream, then out into the channel. I'm just holding on, trying to
keep the tip up and away from the fingers of roots and branches sticking
up out of the water.
The reel screamed as the line went out, well into the backing. It was all
going too fast for me to react. I finally started palming the reel to slow
the fish down. All of a sudden the line went slack.
The first thing that came to mind was another break off. I started reeling in,
then there was a tug. The fish was swimming back upstream towards me!
I reeled line like mad. Suddenly it turned and headed straight for the tree
roots next to the boat. I lifted with everything I had, trying to keep the
fish from burying itself in the roots and tangling my line.
Slowly, I could feel the fish rising toward the surface. My arms ached
already and it hadn't been even 10 minutes. Finally, the fish came to the
surface. I looked at the dorsal fin and saw the place they'd tagged it three
years ago. The tag had ripped out, ripping part of the dorsal fin in the
process. The fish was huge, at least 43 or 44 inches. A scar ran across
its face from a previous battle.
It was just sitting there in the water, looking at ME!
Then a very scary thought ran through my mind, if I managed to net this
monster and get it into this little boat with me what are my chances of
rowing back across the river and still having my body intact.
The teeth were huge, hanging out over its upper lip like a crocodile. We sat there
looking at each other for about 30 seconds.
Then I very slowly reached down and picked up my hemostats and
cautiously reached down for the fly hanging out of it's upper lip. I was
more scared at that point than I think I've ever been in my life. I'd seen what it had done
to ducks and I did not want my hand to be shredded like yesterdays hamburger.
I carefully locked the hemostats onto the hook, then quickly twisted and
pulled the hook out.
The whole time the fish just sat there, watching me. It slowly sank down in
the water, then with a swish of its tail, went under the boat and out of site.
I sat there, stunned, astonished, sweating, and shaking. Unable to even
untie the boat for 15 minutes and row back to the dock.
While I sat there in the boat the two neighbors walked down to the
bank, laughing. They had seen what had happened, watched the fight, saw the
fish and thought that I'd gone into some trance or something and were just
coming down to check on me. One of them made the comment that this was the
first time they'd ever seen me bite off something bigger than I could chew,
and admit it. Until next time! ~ Randy Fratzke