I TAKE great pleasure in the mistakes of nature. I’ve always been drawn to abstract thought and feel as if I understand the absurd better than the logical. After all, the science that governs the natural world is filled with a million certainties but only a few anomalies. It is these curveballs, only occasionally thrown, that I will take a swing at.
To expand on this topic and discuss it in concert with another that fascinates me, let’s discuss a fish. The Northern Pike is a super predator that could not have been created for any other purpose. Sleek and fast, the pike ambushes prey with a ferocity not matched by most New Hampshire fish.
With its black eyes and sharp teeth, I imagine that when baitfish sit around the fire at night, they scare each other with tales of monster pike. A pike’s diet is vast and there is not much that they won’t eat. Their habitat preference is simple; they exist where the food is. Like most top-tier predators, they have few enemies and spend little thought protecting themselves, instead focusing on feeding. The most significant risk to a pike is a larger pike, and occasionally me.
With all I know about these super sportfish, there is one scenario that defies logic and fascinates me to the brink of insanity. I can’t catch them in the summer. From July to September, the water is at its highest temperature, which jump-starts the metabolism of most fish and acts as an internal trigger to eat.
It may be coincidence that this urge is realized at the same time that forage fish are at their most abundant. The unfortunate fish that are eaten by pike are everywhere and they have gotten big enough to make a significant meal.
With all of these variables in place, it would seem that an accomplished angler could catch them with regularity and ease. I have a long way to go before I become an accomplished angler.
In the winter, I catch a lot of pike. Focusing on river set-backs, I attach large, attractive bait to steel leaders and drop them in shallow water below a well-tested tip-up. The water is just above 32 degrees and the bait behave in a not unexpected fashion by swimming sideways, taking long pauses, and staring unfocused like I do when I first wake up in the morning.
During almost every ice fishing event, one of the tip-ups go off signaling the strike of a strong pike and the fish is landed with significant fanfare. More often, several of these beasts are caught and after taking a picture of the biggest, I pack up and go home satisfied.
In the spring, I also catch a lot of pike. They are an early spawner and enter shallow water to seek the right mate and substrate to accomplish the procreation that keeps the fishery viable. Immediately afterward, they put all of their energy into feeding.
I cruise the shoreline of lakes and cast huge swim baits in water less than 10 feet deep. The pike that I catch are hearty survivors of a harsh winter, battle-scarred from fighting with competitive mates, and look like a prize fighter in the 10th round. As in the winter, a spring day catching a half-dozen pike is not uncommon.
In the fall, I employ similar tactics by casting large, loud baits in shallow water. I have a few spinner-baits that look like they have been dragged through my mom’s sewing basket and resemble no creature on earth. Nevertheless, pike will strike at them as if to mock conventional wisdom and disprove the idea of a food chain and natural aquatic ecosystem. The fish are fast, aggressive, and often huge. I catch a lot of pike in the fall.
This only leaves summer as the fourth season and as mentioned should be the prime time to catch a fish that will eat anything from the menu of animal, vegetable, or mineral entrees. For some reason, the number of Northern Pike that I catch in the summer is slightly lower than the number of striped bass I catch and I only visit the ocean once or twice. I have no explanation and my knowledge of fish behavior would suggest the opposite results. Perhaps it is one of the unexplainable aspects of fishing that keeps me coming back and intrigued by things that just don’t make sense.