Originally Published by Ontario Out of Doors, May 12, 2015
By Gord Ellis
The northern pike is a fish that doesn’t get as much love as it should.
As a kid, growing up in northwestern Ontario, pike were considered little more than a nuisance, a “snake,” only good at cutting off your line and stealing a prize lure. Oddly enough, this was not a school of thought that was adhered to in my family home. I have many recollections of pike fishing adventures up Hwy. 527 – a road familiar to many Ontario moose hunters as it heads north to Armstrong.
In the 1960s and 70s, the lakes in this part of the world were still relatively unknown, and had a lot of big pike in them. Our number one destination was a lake called Eaglehead that was full of big, unsophisticated pike.
It’s funny how certain memories from your childhood stick with you. I have a couple from the days we fished that lake. The first is seeing an angler in another boat hook and land what seemed to me to be the biggest fish on earth. There was much chaos in that boat and I’m sure they were unprepared to handle a pike that was likely 40 inches long. Whether they netted it or hand-landed it with the then-popular double-eyes socket hold, I’m not sure. However, I’ll never forget how big that fish looked being hoisted by the excited angler who caught it.
The other memory I have from that lake is leaning over the boat watching a red and white spoon wobble over the weeds and seeing a pike appear and inhale the spoon. I can’t recall if the fish was landed, or bit the spoon off, or what. But the vision of seeing that big, toothy mouth appear out of the greenery like a dragon has stayed with me for four decades.
Flying all over
Since those heady days of my youth, I’ve had the pleasure of fishing pike all over Canada. I’ve fly-fished for giant pike in both the Northwest Territories and northern Saskatchewan. These are the northern extremes of the pikes’ range, and the lakes are pretty much in perpetual spring. The ice goes off in early July and fall comes about two months later. The big pike stay shallow all summer.
In the far north, you can sneak into sandy bays and sight fish for truly huge pike. About a decade ago, I was on a trip to northern Saskatchewan and fished a shallow, weed-filled bay off enormous Tazin Lake. The guides called this bay “The Aquarium,” and for good reason. The water was crystal clear, and not more than five-feet deep. Pike so big they made my eyes bulge were sitting on the bottom of this bay like pulp logs.
I was throwing a plain white streamer that looked a bit too small for the fish, but large pike in shallow water will hit down-sized lures more often than over-sized mega lures. Near one patch of weeds, I saw a large gator sitting still on the bottom. I laid out a cast just past the fish, let the streamer sink, then slowly started stripping it back.
That pike inhaled the fly like it was a breath mint. When I set the hook, the placid waters of The Aquarium turned into pure mayhem. To make a long story short, the pike was landed and it was a beauty. It measured 46 inches nose to tail and had serious girth. That’s still my largest pike caught on a fly.
As I write this, I’m replaying a trip from a week ago. The ice had just gone out on Superior’s Black Bay, so Gord Sr., friend Sandro Fragale, and I jumped into my boat and started working some bucktail spinners. The first fish was on my dad’s line. He had cast, reeled back, then noticed “his line was moving.” When the line started burning off his reel at a high pace, the truth was revealed.
That was the first of several beauty pike, all of them living in very shallow water. Because pike are so explosive we had some real fun, including some netting fails and very wet releases. The largest of our fish was 44 inches, with several bumping up over the 40-inch mark. It was world-class pike fishing and we were enjoying it not far from the thriving metropolis of Thunder Bay.
What’s not to love about the water wolf?
Photo courtesy of Onatrio Out of Doors