|On the prowl.|
The first thing you notice is just how mean they look.
Their sleek, streamlined bodies are made for the chase, and their mottled skin ensures them a distinct advantage from the very start, because it allows them to lie in wait for unsuspecting prey and remain virtually invisible while doing it. And with one push from that wide tail, they can work into a full sprint and be on their target's tail with little or no warning.
And then there are the teeth. Rows of them. Rows of jagged, broken glass that grip and hold. And tear and shred. When their mouths open, they become messengers of certain death. When they’re closed, they wear an evil grin that is the herald of doom, of terrible things to come. That twisted grin is the fish's guarantee that very bad things will happen. Soon.
Northern pike might be the perfect predator, and here on Lake Athabasca, where winters don’t really go away, they just take a few weeks off, these fish always seem to be eating, probably because they always have to. It takes toothy mouthfuls of hapless fish to fuel a killing machine, and to their credit, they don't seem to struggle to find the fuel.
And for fly fishers, there's nothing better than a predator with an attitude to match its mouth.
Sometimes, they'll scream from the depths and erupt from the water like an ICBM headed for Moscow. Other times, they'll simply give chase, toying with the fly and attacking just as the fly is about to leave the water for the next cast. Nothing frustrates a pike like a meal that gets away. I suspect that very few ever do.
They're inherently curious, another advantageous nugget for the fly angler. The more gawdy the fly, the more interest it seems to attract. The brighter the color, the more aggressive the strikes.
And when the fly fisher is fortunate enough to connect with a big northern (or a small northern, for that matter), that aggression, that attitude ... well, it translates into a special kind of panic. When a big pike realizes the red, yellow and purple critter that looked so appetizing (or aggravating) a moment before has bitten back, the will survive trumps the will to eat.
I've heard from more than one angler that pike are poor fighters. Tell that to my aching forearm.
Granted, they're not going to scream off yards and yards of fly line on blistering runs. They're more apt to dive deep, tangle themselves up in the weeds and simply refuse to come to hand. Simply put, they pull. Hard. Don't believe the gear angler armed with a saltwater rod and a spool of 50-pound mono–these fish fight for their lives.
|Two of the new Clergy Series of flies that Athabasca's|
pike have had their way with.
Pike, I would argue, should be on every fly fisher's life list. They bring all the favors to the party–sharp teeth (and plenty of them), a surly attitude and willingness to chase a fly, whether it's skittered across the surface or dredged through the weeds.
Pike chase flies. Thank God for that.