The first truly great fish I caught in my life was a Minnesota pike, a Boundary Waters fish to be specific. Our group had been tipped off about the presence of a large Esox in a particular bay by a party of retreating canoers. My brother and I decided to ignore the walleye and smallmouth in hopes of something bigger. Not having anything sufficiently large in my tackle box, I caught a bluegill, hooked it behind the dorsal with the biggest hook I had, then trolled it on a long line over a deep cabbage bed.
The pike that came up to eat it was so large I fought it to the canoe three times before it broke my line. It was so heavy that the canoe, over-freighted by two anglers and two full Duluth packs, would start to take on water before we cleared the fish’s creamy white belly from the lake. We’d lift and tip, lift and tip. It was a perfect equilibrium, just like the enterprise of pike fishing itself, a balancing act where hunter hunts hunter.
As we grew older our passion for pike took my brother and I farther north. Slowly, we learned the haunts of the biggest fish on any given watershed. In far northern Ontario, we camped on islands shared by calving caribou and spent our days canoeing over the depths until we found lake trout and the huge pike that followed them. One day, on a white articulated fly with a tungsten head and sinking line, I hooked the second largest fish of my life, bested only by a lake sturgeon.
“This is why we came here!” I yelled over and over as the rod bent toward breaking and my brother aimed the canoe for a small island where he could get out and land the fish. But the pike saved its hardest run for last, and when he and I pulled at the same time, the line broke. The pike won.
The smart money is always on the pike.
Nowadays, I dream of lands even further abroad. There is a lot of unexplored pike water left in the world. The giant pike of Scandinavia, the beasts of Siberia, the goliaths of interior Alaska, the silver specimens of Mongolia. And the pike’s presence all across the Northern Hemisphere is no accident or sleight of hand. While some fish spread through the world via the doting hands of anglers who tucked their eggs into blankets of moss, the pike broadcast itself across the breadth of the Northern world without aid, driven only by its curiosity to kill and eat new things.
Chase pike long enough and you will in turn absorb the best traits of the predator. Cunning. Stealth. Courage. Surprise. Show me the angler forged in pike fishing, and I’ll show you someone who can hunt. This year, no matter what you fish for, take time to fish for pike. When it comes to becoming a master predator, the angler will find no better mentor.