When catching fish, nothing quite beats the take of the fly, the initial surge and acceptance of the offering. Whether it is a gentle dunk on the indicator from a nymph rig, or a simple look, examine, and sip approach on a dry fly. Or, even my personal favorite, the carnivorous aggression towards what appears to be an injured baitfish while streamer fishing. When I hear rumors of an aggressive and carnivorous fish, one that inhales big streamers in a memorable fashion, I think to myself, I have to chase it. This is where this story and my search began.
The Northern Pike are known for their ferocious behavior when inhaling a fly. They can even punish an angler with razor sharp teeth which line the mouth and gills. This aggressive beast can grow massive in size but finding the true monster or any fish at all has said to take 10,000 casts.
It was spring of 2017 when I got serious about wrangling my very own pike. Day and night for weeks I chased those elusive creatures with hundreds of casts and each time, nothing. All I seemed to be doing was spooking trophy pike in every direction and watch as the small ones chase my streamer and get spooked from my shadow. My life: researching, driving, casting, repeat. I got very little sleep between work and casting big heavy streamers during what seemed to be a spring that ended too quickly, or so I thought.
As spring ends, the pike begin to spawn. However the lake I fish is at a higher elevation. The cold nature of that body of water made me start to think that everything I was reading was delayed in my mountain environment. When June begins and the summer heat starts to beat down on most pike filled lakes, mine was still just getting warm enough to get the pike moving to the shallows to begin searching for spawning grounds. This gave me another month or so to search for that unicorn under the surface. Eighteen days and thousands of casts later I was struggling to get out of bed and into the car to search for my monster pike. However, Sunday, June 18, 2017, Father’s Day, was the day it all came together.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning. I woke up around 9:00, stumbled out of bed and made my way to a mug of hot coffee. Today was my turn for the fly-tying shift, 2pm-9pm at the fly shop. We call it this because of its slow nature. You have extended time to crank some bugs out on the vice that need to be restocked in the fly box mid season. So I was in no rush at work and I was trying to push myself to go cast heavy streamers around the lake. About 10:15, after sending a text and making a quick phone call to the man that helped me find this wonderful sport; a coworker and I loaded the 1994 Buick Century, yes that’s the ultimate fish wagon on the market, and set out for the lake in search of pike. By the time we were geared up at the lake it was about 11:00 and the wind was howling. Although it was a gorgeous, blue-sky day the wind blasted up the canyon to the reservoir. I also had been battling with a cracked fly line that was so bad it would hardly cast through each eyelet on my fly rod. After about 30 minutes of pure frustration trying to cast in the roaring gusts and avoiding tangled line around my rod, I decided I was going to stop and sit on the bank and be done. It was just not my day for fly-fishing. As I angrily waded back to the bank, I spotted a torpedo casually cruising about three feet in front of me. The fish went from my left shoulder to my right with no true destination or urgency. This was very different than what I was use too because of the past month spooking different sized pike wading the flats. I quickly dropped my streamer in the water and pulled line out of my reel with purpose. I took a couple false casts and set it in the direction of where I had last saw the fish; left, strip, strip, strip, recast right, strip, strip, strip, recast middle, strip, strip, BOOM! First strip set hard and solid, second strip set, just as the first, still not sure so I go for a third and that’s where it all went wrong.
Pop! There went my perfection loop on my twenty pound fluorocarbon leader, four feet of line and a streamer attached to my first pike ever hooked. Heart broken and beyond angry, I let out some yells and threw a mini temper tantrum. Yes, the kind a little kid throws when he doesn’t get his way. I took a couple deep breathes and quickly begin to get another rig tied. I felt defeated and unsure I would even have another chance. After a quick perfection loop on one end and a loop knot with the same streamer I just lost on the other, I was re-rigged and casting as fast as I could. The next thing I know, a pike exploded from the depths, crushing my streamer. As it turned back to dive deep half his body broke the surface of the waves and gave me a top water visual I never would have expected from a streamer. Like a wild brown smashing an innocent chubby near the bank, this pike went air born after committing to an identical streamer as the one I lost. One strong and hard strip set and two bursts of energy later I dragged my very first pike in to shore. No net, a friend with a camera, a pike with two of the same streamers in each corner of his mouth and one angler that finally found the fish he was looking for.
The size didn’t matter to me at this point, I was just happy to see a gator mouth filled with teeth and feathers. This pike was everything I ever wanted and more for my first experience and started an addiction that I might never lose. 10,000 casts later, one lost fish, and one last cast to redeem myself makes 10,002. The number of casts is what it took me to grip and grin my very first northern pike. Some say it was skill, some say it was lucky, some say it was determination or even some Fathers Day luck... but in reality, it is what we call fishing.
- Austin Noel