Springtime pursuit is on for big fish with bad attitude
CRAWFORD — Pretty. Intimidating. Fish.
If you’ve ever seen a northern pike up close and personal, you understand the saying, “appearances are everything.”
Sleek, muscular, perfectly camouflaged in dark green and gray vermiculations, baring a mouth lined with razor-sharp teeth and sporting a pugnacious attitude to accompany its bad-boy reputation, this belligerent fish has it all.
Think of fiercesome and, well, if these fish really got big — pike of up to 42 pounds have been caught on a fly rod — fishing for pike would be a completely different pursuit.
As it is, there still is plenty of excitement.
A recent visitor to Crawford Reservoir happened upon Mel Peterson and Chase Wiening doing the spring pike dance, a slow, thoughtful ballet composed mostly of walking the shoreline and tossing large, colorful flies into the sun-warmed shallows.
Watching the two local men methodically and skillfully spot-and-stalk large fish is a lesson in the Zen of fishing, during which, of course, this visitor kept to form and rudely interrupted with a seemingly never-ending barrage of questions.
How? Why? Where? When?
“I caught one about an hour ago that went about 30 inches but I didn’t have my tape with me at the time,” said Peterson, who was changing flies (a common activity among pike anglers) when approached. “My biggest pike out of here went 10 pounds, 10 ounces.”
Peterson, a retired Forest Service employee from Eckert, was changing from a red-and-black fly tied with maribou and rabbit fur to a garish purple fly styled like a dance-hall baitfish, complete with a beady red eye.
Well aware of a pike’s shark-like teeth, Peterson was using a wire leader with a quick-snap hook.
“I’ve had pretty good luck with this one,” he said, holding up the purple fly. “Lots of guys swear by the red-and-white one but you have to go with what you have confidence in.
“Chase, down there, has been using a white fly all day, I believe.”
We looked down the lake to where Wiening was holding a rod bent nearly double. *
“I think I have something here,” he said, easing into the shallows to make sure he wasn’t snagged on the assortment of small trees and brush (“stickups,” in angling parlance) under which pike love to set up ambush.
A sudden splashing and Wiening was satisfied.
“Nope, it isn’t snagged,” he affirmed, the rod jumping in his hand.
With Peterson closing in, Wiening issued a warning.
“Don’t try to grab it, it’ll bite,” he said as the pike leapt out of the water. “I’ll just walk it up the bank.”
A few minutes later, he announced, “Thirty and half inches.”
And he caught the 6-pound, 12-ounce fish on a purple fly.
“I was using that white fly all morning and changed to the purple one a few minutes ago,” he said. “I was just walking along the bank when I saw this guy cruising along and I just flipped this in front of him.”
Crawford has been clear of ice for several weeks but it wouldn’t be considered warm.
Peterson said the mid-morning temperature in the shallows was about 54 degrees, a level he described as perfect for pike.
“I think they’re just up here getting some sun on their bodies,” he said, pointing at a pike hovering a few yards away.
The pike, its fins moving slowly in the clear water, didn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave.
“That fish must have moved in while I was standing here taking the temperature,” Peterson mused. “I didn’t even see him come up.”
Pike spawn as soon as the ice goes off and, by now, most of the spawning is over at Crawford, Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap reservoirs, the nearest still-water pike fisheries.
Several sources say the females move off-shore after spawning while the males linger in the shallows, getting some heat into their bodies and ambushing prey.
Once the summer temperatures come, pike fishing becomes a deep-water sport.
“This is a great time to fish for pike,” said Phil Trimm at Western Anglers Fly Shop (244-8658). “There’s also a good window of fishing in the fall.”
But pike fishing isn’t the same as pike catching.
“We spend a lot of hours for every fish we catch,” said Peterson, who wasn’t complaining but simply stating a truth.
He continued slowly walking the shore, eyeing every shadow, casting into the brush, patiently and twisting the fly back.
“That Chase is quite a fisherman,” he said, turning back up-lake to where Wiening was sitting, repairing the damage done to his fly. “Think I’ll go see what he’s putting on now.”
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* A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Chase Wiening as a former Hotchkiss basketball coach who took the team to a 1992 state title. That coach was Harold Clay.