April is almost upon us, ladies and gentlemen!
How do I know? That’s easy. I have a torn rotator cuff and six herniated discs in my back from trying to get my “portable” ice shanty up into the attic of my garage. I took my truck through the carwash for the first time in six months and, honestly, I actually forgot it was red. I have a large enough puddle at the end of my driveway to launch my boat and use the trolling motor. Of course only an idiot would do something like that. I know this because two weeks ago my neighbor kept yelling at me and calling me an idiot for floating around in my driveway on my boat.
Oh, sweet April is almost here! March is leaving and she’s taking all of the river ice with her. There’s still 6 ½ feet of ice on the lakes but its days are numbered. Don’t get me wrong, folks…I love ice fishing. In January I look out on a frozen lake and I’m happier than a politician in a gentlemen’s club with a fist full of tax dollars. Ice fishing is great but it’s a winter sport. After one polar vortex after another I’m ready to be done with winter. I’m ready to put my boat in a real body of water and do some serious fishing. I’m ready to do some serious April fishing. And April fishing means some of my favorite fishing.
That means fishing for old Esox Lucius. The Northern Pike.
I am blessed to live a long cast away from the lower Muskegon River. It’s a widely known fact that the lower Muskegon River is the absolute greatest Northern Pike fishery in the entire world (citation needed). The oxbows and holes of the mighty Muskegon hide some of the meanest, nastiest Northerns on the planet. I have run my shallow skiff up and down the river for years and have developed a love/hate relationship with these toothy critters.
See above: “Toothy”
Pike are not for the faint of heart. If fish truly are in “schools” we can all agree that the beautiful and sensitive trout are the drama kids, the broad shouldered bass are the jocks and the catfish are hanging out in the corners of the river listening to Dave Matthews and finding new ways to use the seaweed. If this is true of fish, and I think it is, the Pike are taking lunch money and challenging everybody to a fight after class.
Pike are mean in a way that most fish are not. The Pike doesn’t just want that hook out of his mouth like other fish. He wants to get in your boat before the hook comes out so he can try really hard to hurt you. The pike is malicious. The pike is insidious and evil. He has hatred deep in his little, black pike heart.
He shares a name with this thing…Not a coincidence.
I just don’t understand how a fish can be smooth, slimy and snake-like and still be sharp everywhere. Pike are only happy when they make you bleed. They don’t even have to rely on their needle-sharp teeth, although those work the best at inflicting pain. They can also do it with their fins as you try to get a handle on them. They can lace you open with their gill plates. This is one of their favorite things to do. A pike is like one giant nose that is constantly oozing a snot-like substance. This makes them slippery. As you are fighting to get a hold of them through all of the slime and snot, they act like they are going to calm down. They relax and start to go limp. This is their ruse! Just as you are getting complacent they make an unbelievably strong flop and lace you open with a dorsal fin, their insidious teeth, or that razor sharp gill plate. You invariably drop them on the deck of your boat to stop the spray of arterial blood spurting from your body and they flop out of the boat and into the murky water, telling jokes about your mom as they hit the surface.
He doesn’t even know her!
They are pure evil.
I bleed almost every time I hunt pike. And make no mistake, you hunt for Pike. A Northern Pike will mangle a $6 dollar spinnerbait into an unrecognizable tangle of wire, rubber skirts, and willow blades while somehow leaving the hook deep in your hand, face, thigh, scalp, or wife. Even a small “hammer handle” pike will try to chase you around your boat until you kick it out with the toe of your shoe while it somehow forms its fin into a middle finger as it falls into the water.
So why do I hunt for this menace of the deep? I hunt for these scaly wolves of the river for the same reason men play football, stalk bears with a bow and get into the octagon. I hunt pike because they actually make you earn every hook set and turn of the reel’s handle. From the smallest snake to the monster water wolves, Esox Lucius doesn’t give you anything. They fight back. You come away from your encounter with the Northern Pike feeling a sense of accomplishment and victory you get from no other fish.
It feels a little like this…
With more blood and less sunset.
Well folks, I’d love to sit and talk all day but that ice is history and I have some pike to hunt. I look pretty silly with all of these fingers anyway.