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February 3, 2012 - 8:08am

Pike at close range: an unexpected catch

posted by JIM NIGRO in outdoors, northern pike, skin-diving.

As mentioned in my previous post, by the late '80s chasing down northern pike had taken a back seat on my list of priorities. I did, however, enjoy watching pike -- in addition to other species -- in their own element. Skin-diving local impoundments made that possible and that is how Jody Hebdon and myself bumped heads with one particular northern pike, an encounter that was not only unexpected but also quite invigorating.

On a hot July afternoon several years ago, we had donned mask, fins and snorkel in an attempt to cool off. We hadn't been in the water long when we spotted what looked like the tail end of a decent-sized pike sticking out of the weeds, the rest of it hidden by the dense growth. Several feet below us the fish remained motionless while we watched from the surface. Then, with no warning, it vacated the weed bed with one mighty sweep of its tail. Streamlined and built for ambush, in the blink of an eye that pike was out in the open where we could see its size.     

As I swam down for a closer look, the fish began swimming away from me. Then, about the time it disappeared into the depths, I noticed something strange. There, several feet below the surface, some of the taller growth at the edge of the weed bed appeared to be swaying. Ever so slowly it was beginning to lean in the direction where the fish had disappeared. Taking a closer look, I saw a single strand of monofilament fishing line wrapped around the moving weeds. From there the line angled downward toward the deep water, other end no doubt attached to the pike.

What to do? Grab the line? You bet! But first I needed air. After reaching the surface I told Jody, between deep breaths, just what the deal was. I dove again, seeing small perch and bite-sized bluegills hovering idly about as I tried to relocate the line. I was nearly out of air again when I saw it. Thinking to myself, here goes nothing, I took hold of it and began back finning to the surface. Ascending, I kept my eyes on the line, following it into the darkness. On the other end I could feel the fish, then watched as it emerged from the depths -- and what a sight it was. The pike undulated, shaking its head from side to side, its mouth wide open and gills flared. I remember feeling as though I was watching a Jacques Cousteau documentary.

Water tends to magnify an object, making it appear 25 percent larger than its actual size. Once on the surface, and with the fish twisting and turning below, I turned to Jody and stole what may have been Roy Scheider's most memorable cinema line (from "Jaws" of course), blurting out, "We're gonna need a bigger boat!"

Several times I slowly worked the fish close only to have it take back the line each time, not in long, slashing runs, but slow and deliberate, disappearing back into the depths. Jody and I would later discover there were 19 yards of line attached to the pike -- exactly 57 feet. 

After 45 minutes of give-and-take, we had worked the fish into water about six-feet deep. Previous experience with pike told me the most crucial time was at hand. Fish about to be brought to the net often go ballistic -- even those appearing exhausted. And because we had no net, we planned to slip our hands beneath the pike and flip it onto shore. What's more, we had a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth to contend with.

Of all the pike I've tangled with through the years, this one certainly ranks right up there in terms of excitement -- perhaps even more so. I mean, how often does one get face to face with their catch while it's still in the water?

Elizabeth Downie
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Last seen: 1 year 6 months ago
Joined: Nov 10 2009 - 5:57pm

That's an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime story, Jim! Congrats on your unique catch!

JIM NIGRO
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Last seen: 4 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: Oct 14 2008 - 4:37pm

Thanks, Elizabeth - It was for sure an exhilarating time and equally special to have Jody along to share in the adventure. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

John Woodworth JR
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Last seen: 5 years 3 months ago
Joined: May 28 2009 - 11:13am

Heck of catch and a great fireplace trophy.

JIM NIGRO
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Last seen: 4 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: Oct 14 2008 - 4:37pm

Thanks, John.........talk about being in the right place at the right time!!

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