Pike fishermen are a breed apart. They feel that the elongated, glaring, ugly-jawed northern pike is a creature of rare loveliness and those who can afford the time and the money pursue the fish to the ends of the country. This attitude is a source of continuing amazement to the native folk of the pike's tremendous stronghold which extends from Labrador to Alaska. In this land where pike are caught by natives mostly for dog food it has long been contemptuously called "snake." Nowadays "jack" is the more familiar name; it is not one of endearment.
Yet in the face of such disparagement, U.S. pike aficionados are pressing north from hard-fished waters and just now lake-pocked Manitoba is at the threshold of an angling invasion. To be sure, it has various glamour fish such as the grayling, brook and lake trouts for which local inhabitants fish. But the indomitable pike men from the U.S. are in the vanguard.
An example of how what might be called a "pike strike" starts is to be found in the case of Cory Kilvert, a bush-ranging newspaperman from Winnipeg who overheard an interesting conversation in the bar of the Cambrian Hotel at The Pas in Manitoba. A red-bearded stranger tried to interest some revelers in the fact that he had just taken a pike five feet long in a gill net as food for his sled dogs. Reed Lake, where he had caught the pike, was stiff with fish, he said. But no one paid much attention; Manitoba was stiff with lakes stiff with pike.
A winter passed before Cory Kilvert launched a canoe loaded with grub and tackle at Cranberry Portage, 60 miles north of The Pas. After two days of paddling and portaging the Grassy River, he drifted onto the quiet water of Reed Lake and made a cast. The lure traveled a few feet, stopped suddenly, and something like spring steel uncoiled out of the water. It was a 10-pound northern pike which he presently landed.
During the next hour he hooked a pike-and sometimes two, if the first got off-on nearly every cast. Many of them, he was sure, ran twice 10 pounds, and his largest fish seemed three times as big as that first one. When he finally quit, another lake in the promised land for pike fishermen had gained new stature.
There are many more waiting to be discovered. Reed Lake is just a speck in this new frontier being opened up by bush airways. Beyond The Pas, almost beginning in the lobby of the Cambrian, are a quarter of a million miles of brush and muskeg, cascading rivers and glacial lakes. But Reed Lake is an outstanding example of fine Manitoba pike water. More than 500 islands break 200 square miles of water into quiet, shallow bays where vegetation becomes lush by mid-July. Pike loiter around such places from breakup in May to freeze-up in October. They're completely unmolested, except by other pike several sizes larger.
Kilvert and a friend, Len Austin, were waiting with a pair of canoes when Al Staff an and I-all the way from Columbus, Ohio-touched down and taxied to shore recently. We were just 45 minutes from The Pas via a float-equipped Cessna. Another half hour and we paddled into a small bay full of pike.
It was unsophisticated fishing for unsophisticated fish. Hooking pike was as difficult as getting a lure in the water, even if barely over the gunwale. There were no dull moments. We had started with gang-hooked plugs but changed to spoons with single hooks when removing them became too much of a chore. Eventually we tried not to catch fish unless they looked substantially heavier than the 8-pound average. Pike were everywhere we moved; a 16 pounder wound up the day's best.
Another morning we traveled eight miles to the mouth of Krug Creek across a surface as smooth as glass.
AS LONG AS FENCE POSTS