by Loren Flagg

Rumors. Whether it be "trophy" Florida Bass, "4X4" Kodiak Blacktail Bucks, "mythical" Dall Rams, or "giant" Northern Pike - these rumors always seem to get my attention. First the rumor, followed by research (to see if there could be any truth to the rumor), then the chase. During these various pursuits I have covered nearly the entire Florida Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, much of the south end of Kodiak Island, all but one of the major Dall sheep mountain ranges of Alaska, and now nearly a dozen of Alaska's Northern Pike lakes. Many fish and game based rumors are just that, and often lead to the classical "Wild Goose Chase." I have taken off on many of these rumor inspired adventures over the years. The latest "rumor," which led to my trophy class pike, started with a second hand report that went "swear to God, I saw a pike skeleton along the shore of an Iliamna area lake that measured 8 inches across the widest part of the head". As a fisheries biologist (although no pike expert) I was certain that this was an exaggeration. But still, there is usually some element of truth to "rumor reports" so I felt a little research was in order.

Off to the local Fish and Game office to talk with the Sports Fish biologists. This leads to phone calls to other biologists who are experts on pike and who are responsible for research and management in the Iliamna region. Results of this research are encouraging. Although the largest northern pike in the state are found in tributaries of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers - the state record is a 38 lb. 8 oz. lunker from the Innoko River in 1991, waters of the Iliamna region and out to the west are known to be a close second for pike growth.

On a beautiful mid-March day Chris cranks up the Super Cub in Kenai at 8:15 AM and we are off. We meet up with Roy about half way across and high in the sky over Cook Inlet and head over to Lake Clark Pass. For safety's sake, these cub guys like to fly in pairs when headed off on a long range adventure. There is no wind and the mountains loom sunny and beautiful. Augustine Volcano to the south is smoking away. We take a shortcut and pass by just a stone's throw, and just below, the summit of Mt. Redoubt. Two hours from takeoff we are into the Iliamna country and decide on one of several known pike lakes in the region to try our luck. Any one of these lakes should produce good sized pike based on Fish and Game reports. After a smooth landing we drill a few test holes (yeah, I should have brought my portable depth sounder)! Too shallow with only a foot of water under the ice. We taxi off a short way and try another spot with the same results. We try again further down the lake and this time we find the depth we are looking for.

Chris drills a couple holes for Roy and I and then heads off about 30 yards to drill one for himself. Roy and I had no sooner got our tip-ups set up and our baits in the water when Chris yells out "I got one already!" For the next 90 minutes it was non stop action for all of us with pike up to 29 inches. By this time we had shed our coats and we were actually looking forward to a letup in the action so we could squeeze in a lunch break! We finally got this reprieve and instead of a flag every 2 or 3 minutes it was now down to 10 minutes or so.

After lunch the action slowed a little more, but then my flag went up about 25 yards from where I was starting to rig some different gear to try. By the time I sloshed through the snow and reached the hole the line was near the end of the spool. The pike stopped just as I reached the hole, evidently to munch on his herring lunch. I set the hook and at first thought I was hung on the bottom. Then it moved, luckily toward me as I was short on line. After gathering in a few yards she (all big pike are females) changed directions and the fun began. The line ran speedily through my gloved hands, and then went slack. Here she comes toward me again as I gathered in the black Polar line. When she turned and ran again I felt the full weight and realized I had hooked a lunker. My main thought was how I was going to get this fish up through an 8" hole in the ice. I was regretting that we hadn't used a 10 inch auger. After 2 more long runs I got her up to the edge of the hole. By this time Chris and Roy had wandered over to join me to see if I was just, or if I was really on to something big. Earlier I had experienced some problems in getting a smaller 29 inch pike up through my hole, so they were at first skeptical.

The first two attempts to bring her up through the hole didn't work out as I couldn't get her head turned. On the next try she started to get stuck and the momentum to bring her through the ice was lost. I let her run back out again and then tried pulling as fast as I could to gain enough momentum to burst her up through the hole. And that's exactly how she came up through - with a burst into the air and out onto the ice! I don't know what the world's record is for repeating the phrase "Oh my God, that's a big fish," but I believe that my son-in-law Chris, now holds it for a real life situation.

We fished for another hour or so and took our pictures. A few more smaller pike were landed and then it was time to head home. We had landed 30 pike and retained eleven in less than 4 hours of fishing. We had missed another 10 or 12 in all. Our pike probably averaged 4-5 pounds in weight and along with the "monster," we had two 29 inchers which weighed between 7 and 8 pounds.

After landing back in Kenai I stopped at Trustworthy Hardware where the pike weighed in at 24.6 pounds. A neighbor nearby had a certified scale where it checked out at 24.3 pounds. The next day I brought the pike over to the Soldotna Fish and Game office for trophy certification. They weighed it in at 24 pounds even and recorded an official total length of 46 inches. The biologist took scale samples which will be read later, but guessed the pike was about 20 years old. Dave, owner of Ninilchik Fish Mounts, stopped by to pick up the pike later that day and said "I'm from pike country, but this is the largest northern I've ever seen!" He's looking forward to doing a skin mount for me.

[AOJ Note: Pike tend to lose weight after caught due to dehydration and significant slime loss over time. Based on the Fish & Game age/wt/length chart this fish's live weight was probably close to 26 lbs.]

Now, I'm enough of a realist to know that I was very lucky and that this will more than likely be the biggest pike I ever catch. However, have you heard the "rumor" that northerns get up to 55 inches and over 40 pounds up along the Yukon River!




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