The good thing about working at a Canadian fishing lodge is the fishing. The ‘bad’ thing is getting the daily updates from guests about how great it is while we’re at work! The season so far hasn’t been short on stories; and the big pike that’ve been turning up keep me jumping in the staff boat whenever I can. I’m staring at the water right now and wondering where the big ones might be. It’s a tough life.
This time of year is probably the best if you’re thinking about tangling with proper northern pike (or just ‘northerns’ if you’re from this part of the world). Water temperatures are still nice enough for the big ones which get stressed by the heat as summer progresses. When this happens they head deep in search of cold water, and are beyond my skills to locate. For now, they kick into feeding mode to make the most of the blossoming life that occurs in the shallows, which starts with the fresh growth of weed, algae and insects that the smaller fish feed on. A top order predator, the pike is especially hungry at this time of year following the spawn, and from my observations, they also appreciate a bit of sun baking while they’re up there.
My spin rods are somewhere in the Canadian postal system and I miss chucking spoons in the search for northerns like I did last Fall, but in the interest of setting myself a new challenge (and because I don’t have another option) I’ve been sneaking about in likely looking bays with a fly rod instead.
While the first couple of outings didn’t produce much more than little hammer handles, one day the sun was out and the air was still. The jump in water temperature apparently signalled the change of seasons to the baitfish and I was lucky enough to fish the afternoon before my night shift. Where the day before I’d been staring into empty water, every bit of shallow structure I drifted by was stacked with minnows; and where there’s prey then surely the predators follow. That afternoon I tied into several thumper smallmouth and small but fat pike.
So followed the next few outings, with one evening spent sight casting to smallmouth while they harassed bait on the surface over 100ft of water – who knew that smallies have pelagic tendencies. My casting was improving a bit and even with an underweighted line I was managing to get things going where I wanted. The big baitfish pattern I’d tied back in Australia was starting to look a bit ratty although that didn’t seem to matter; but wherever the big pike were, they weren’t where I was.
Then one evening I drifted into a shallow drain and spotted a good fish. It was lurking with another, slightly smaller one. Unfortunately for me they were both aware of my boat by the time I spotted them – and my fly was about 20 yards off in the other direction. Needless to say, they spooked before I could get a cast in to them. The next evening I was back and creeping about with a paddle in search of the big one. After trying a few potential spots I began making my way up into the far reaches of the bay where last years weed was starting to be joined by new growth. I was just drawing alongside a little nook in the weeds when a big swirl signalled a large fish moving my way. From where it had been lying just under the surface in a few inches of water, I spotted a big pike cruising back out into the bay.
I’d somehow managed to get the paddle out of the road and the rod into my hands, and with a couple of false casts I put the fly out in front of and a little beyond the fishes line of travel. A strip as soon as it touched down kicked the pike into gear and it dashed over and hooked itself. Once back to the reel I was safe enough to take my time and enjoy the tail-wagging runs and acrobatics of such a nice fish.
Glancing around the boat I realised that I’d forgotten to put a net in – so letting the fish run itself out was the safest option. Several minutes later it seemed that I was going to get to handle the fish and I let it make its last couple of dashes under the boat before easing it back to within reach. With the pike resting boatside I took the leader and reached to gill it. The fish rolled once and Pop! Shocked, I stared forlornly at the little kink in the wire tippet that had been my undoing. The fish sank to the bottom and lay there resting while I momentarily wished I had my bow. Then it kicked and swam off. I went back to camp.
Since then I’ve seen another good fish. It was hanging out by a boulder on the drop off at the mouth of a bay. I was snagged on a root a few metres beyond it. It lazily cruised off as I drifted over. As sad as that was, I was lucky enough to land my biggest fish for the season so far a few casts later.
As it stands at the moment I’m enjoying fishing exclusively with the fly rod for a change. Watching my gaudy coloured creations flick and hover before disappearing in a silver-green flash is hard to tire of. Sooner or later I’ll cross paths with another alligator. I was thinking I could even come to grips with losing that fish. Then the boss came into the dining room last night and asked if we’d seen ‘the photo’. One of the canoe parties that had just come out of Quetico Park had caught a 50+ incher – all 30 odd pounds of it.
I might go fishing again.