Mike lowered the anchor, and Gord took out a pair of bright yellow, shoulder length, rubber gloves. Now that the powerful motor was turned off, a blissful quiet surrounded us. Now that we weren’t roaring across the water at full speed, we could appreciate the beauty of our environs, too. "What's that bird we’re hearing?" I asked, referring to a high pitched chirping sound, the emittor of which seemed to be in one of the nearby low trees. "That's a squirrel," Gord said. I should have known that. I did know that. I looked down in embarrassment, and noticed that the water was clear and creased with current. We had left the silty lake, and entered the River of Dreams.
The water was clear and creased with current
"Idunno, guys, I'm not seeing any fish," I joked. "Yeah, this is bullshit," Gord replied, without missing a beat. "Let's go back." He slipped on his bovine intrusion gloves, took out a small rake, and proceeded to clear the impeller of weeds without getting his hands wet.
Gord and his gloves
Just a few minutes later, the motor roared into life again, and Gord piloted us up the river with masterful urgency. I tried my best to take note of the rugged rocks, some of which looked to have been scraped by a giant's fingernails, the reddening shrubs, and the ratty spruce trees. That boulder-strewn spot, on the left bank, where a side stream met the river. The little islands that all looked like prime fishy territory. We sped by them all, and my heart rate increased with each turn, because I knew where we were headed.
A blissful quiet surrounded us
When we rounded the last bend, the island where we intended to camp came into view. There were four tents on it, and a boat lay in the shallows, tied to a branch. We weren't too bothered, as this was a Sunday, and we figured the folks who had spent the night there would pack up and leave before the day was through. The campers weren't fishing, so we waved as we zoomed by, and my breath caught in my throat, because there, just beyond, lay The Pike Jam.
There lay The Pike Jam
At the Jam, we shed our cumbersome flotation jackets and disembarked with our gear. This was actually happening. I hopped around on the rocks for a spell, before rigging up, to stretch my legs and get a feel for the terrain. Mike waved me over to a rocky platform that provided a great view, down into an eddy beside the white water. He pointed into the clear pool, not that he needed to. "Most of those are Lake Whitefish," he said, "but there are a few conies in there." I looked and saw a vast swarm of silvery fish moving in and out of the calmer water at our feet. Some of the silvery fish were twice the size of the other silvery fish. Time to get fishing.
A vast swarm of silvery fish
The fourth in our party was Spruce, a local friend of Mike and Gord. Like me, he had never caught an Inconnu or fished at The Pike Jam before. Two dudes looking to get a splendid lifer, the pressure was on. Unlike me, Spruce had a rod rigged up and ready to go. In the time it took me to get my two travel rods out of their tube and rigged up, he caught three Inconnu. So much for lifer pressure.
Spruce wasted no time in getting his lifer
Each time I looked up, one or two of the boys seemed to be bent into a large, silvery beast. My hands were shaking and my fingers would not do my bidding, as I threaded line through guides and tied on leaders. When, after what seemed like half an hour, I finally got around to selecting a lure for my first casts at this miraculous place, I found Gord by my side. "How about this?" I asked, as I took out a Cleo spoon. "Might be a little small, eh?" "Might be a little small..." Gord agreed. I grabbed a large Blue Fox spinner. "This, then." "Yeah, that'll work." I clipped it on and strode down to the water. "They're all along the seam, and really shallow," Mike said, as I let the Blue Fox fly. "So you don't need to let it sink at all." I clicked the bail closed, and felt six expectant eyes on me. About a third of the way through the retrieve, my spinner got thumped, and the fight was on. The strong fish stayed heavy and went deep, and, when we still hadn't seen it after a minute or two, one of the boys put it to me that this was probably not a coney.
The strong fish stayed heavy and went deep
An instant later, we caught a glimpse of a very nice Pike. I have a knack for catching Pike when I'm after exciting lifers in new places (even places where few to no Pike are rumored to dwell), and it seemed I had done it again. At the next lunge, it shook the hook. All right, then. The next cast brought the next bite, and this one felt very different. Very whippy and headshakey. It had to be. It was. After a short fight, I had my hands on a real Inconnu. A modest specimen, but that didn't matter. It was, to paraphrase the great Chris Yates, the only time in my life I would catch my first Inconnu.
The only time in my life I would catch my first Inconnu
And this, friends, is where the blurry haze begins. With the lifers caught, we all set to casting. And catching. I soon switched from the spinner, which was a bit of a pain to fish in the strong current on the lighter rod, to my blue Salmo Slider 7, a favorite little lure that seemed perfect for this situation. And perfect it was. Inconnu after Inconnu inhaled it. They took it with such gusto, that I took the two trebles off, and replaced them with one larger one. This made the unhooking a lot easier. Inbetween casts, Mike and I exchanged pats on the back and manly half-hugs. "I'm so happy this is working out!" he said. And it was only the beginning. The average size of the Inconnu at the start of this surreal session was maybe a touch under 30 inches, and they just kept coming. Gord was the first one to catch a bigger specimen on a Mepps Syclops, a lure I would come to love.
Gord was the first to catch a bigger Inconnu
In the same minute, Mike brought in a beautiful and muscular Pike. A lovely fish, even if it was an unimpressive one for this part of the world.
He released it and recommenced casting from the rock we were sharing, a modest, content smile on his face. I got a small Inconnu on the Slider, and, as I brought it in, Mike connected to another Pike. Non-stop action.
The Pike Jam Two-Step
Mike connected to another Pike
A few Inconnu after this, Gord, fishing to my left, was the first to bring in a Big Pike. The fight looked very impressive.
Gord was the first to bring in a Big Pike
These Pike of the North were so much firmer than the ones I’m used to catching in the low country. The colors and markings were different, too. And the fight... well, I wanted to find out about that. So, after I don't know how many Inconnu, I took up my heavy travel rod, that I had built especially for this trip.
I clipped on a deep diving crankbait, and did not have long to wait before a strong and splendrous Pike grabbed it and gave my Pike Jam Rod its first test.
The rod passed the test
The rod must have passed the test, because that's the fish, right there in the photo. A wonderful Pike. But I don't remember catching it. Such was the surrealness of this session, that I don't remember at least a third of the fish I caught. Big, rad fish. But it was too much, friends, too much.
At some point we noticed that the folks on the island were packing up. They went out in the boat for a few last casts, and brought in fish after fish, while we did the same. A short while and many Inconnu later, they loaded up their boat and left for real. We had the whole area to ourselves now. Even though there was more than enough room, and certainly no shortage of fish, and even though the other party did not even fish for most of the time we were there, things felt better when they were gone. More complete. "How about some lunch?" Mike said, mid frenzy. An excellent idea, of course. We could claim the island and grill up some smokies with cheese in one fell swoop. When we got to the island, I realized how hungry and thirsty I was. Of course I had not taken any breaks in the previous hours. Consumed and overwhelmed. We set up our tents, had a great lunch, quoted Trailer Park Boys, Jerky Boys, and Borat, and zipped back up to the Jam to fish with renewed vigor. The River Gods, it seemed, sensed it was just us fishing now. For they turned the radness dial up a notch or three.
I started off casting the Mepps Syclops, and the bites came thick and fast. It seemed that letting the spoon sink for a few ticks, and slowing the retrieve marginally, produced the most strikes, but honestly it was hard to tell. What was clear, was that the average size of the Inconnu we were catching now was considerably more impressive than before. "I think the big females have moved in, I think that's why!" Mike said, as he joined me on our rock.
The bites came thick and fast
It must have been during this frenzy, that I caught the beautiful Inconnu pictured below. I have no recollection of it, and was pleasantly surprised by it when Mike and I were going through pictures at his place, days later. What a stunner it is.
My best Inconnu?
Spruce, who never changed his spoon the whole trip, brought in a real tanker.
Spruce with a tanker Inconnu
A self confessed Whitefish Addict, and pleased as he must have been with one of the biggest Conies of the trip, Spruce then turned his attention to the swarm of Lake Whitefish in the eddy next to the falls. It seemed that every other time I glanced his way, his rod was bent into a living curve. Many Whites were lost as they zipped into the ultra fast water, but he did bring in several. He would later relate that, fucky as these fish are, quite a few were foul hooked, but he had caught three for real.
With the Lake Whites in that bitey of a mood, Mike decided to take out his long Keiryu rod and give it a go. The sun was high enough that he could sometimes see the fish mouthing his little fly, down in the clear water. It was a tense and spectacular sight to behold his delicate, long instrument bending deeply into these fast and strong fish.
Mike took out his long instrument
Of course, tangling with these critters on a fixed line, right next to that roaring water, was asking for wonderful trouble. Again and again, Mike's intended quarry would shoot into the white water and either pull free or snap the delicate line. But this was MikeB they were dealing with, and eventually he managed to play one in and land it.
Of course Mike got one in the end
As mike and Spruce took turns toying with the Lake Whitefish, I alternated between casting my spoon for the endless Conies, and ripping deep diving crankbaits more to the side of the fast water, hoping for those marvellous true northern Pike. It turned out that the bigger Inconnu didn’t mind a large crankbait, either, and why would anyone complain about that?
Conie on Crank
But more Pike than Conies hit the cranks, and, in some sick way, it was even a bit of a relief to be able to make a few casts and not get hammered. The strength of even the less large specimens, "Minnesotas," as Mike called them, was ridiculously impressive.
These Pike of the North are all muscle
Gord, too, was bringing in fish after fish after fish, in the nonchalant manner of a master angler. He would cast out far into the faster water for the Inconnu, and rarely go without making contact. With his Pike rod, he would make a long cast with a floating crank, let it drift down to a large weed bed, and cunningly tempt large Esox from their hiding place. It was a puzzling treat to see him bring in many impressive fish with calm enthusiasm, and release them all immediately, not even seeming to think about getting some pictures. I realized that of course he’d caught such vast numbers of such rad specimens, that he was content to just stand there and enjoy it, pausing only for a snack or a quick rest.
I did not pause or rest. The thought of how many dream fish were out there was too all-consuming. It was laughable to ponder how many large predators, toothy and toothless, were packed in that relatively small piece of paradise. Paradise to us anglers, that is. You would not want to be a Cisco or a small whitefish in that habitat. As I rode the blissful haze of casting and fighting and landing and admiring and repeating, a line from one of Eli's splendid reports kept shooting through my overwhelmed brain compartment: "Fishing so good head is spinning. Gord telling me this is a slow day." Well, at least I knew that there was no way this could be a slow day...
Late in the afternoon, I had a crushing take on my Salmo Hornet 9, which turned out to be a real killer at the Jam. Mike had told me months earlier that "pretty much any damn thing will work out there," and that was true. But that Hornet 9, small though it is for a Big Pike lure, got me all my best Pike at this hallowed spot. The fight I was in now was something else, though. I felt this had to be my best Pike yet. When I got it to the rocks, I could see it definitely was. Even Mike was impressed. This fish had those beautiful, extra fine markings that I’d seen in some of Mike and Gord's pictures. And it was large. At least 44 inches. Broad shouldered and extra angry. I was thrilled to shaking to get my hands on it.
My hands would let me down, though. A week or so before this dream trip, I had managed a very impressive crash on my divine bike. I welcomed the resulting bumps, bruises and road rash, but was less OK with how it wrecked my right hand in particular. I had no grip strength at all (now, as I type this, some 2 months later, it's still far from healed), and Mike had to come to my aid to cut one of the extra strong trebles, as the fish was hooked a touch fuckily. Trying to get the lure out without cutting that treble would certainly have caused damage to this glorious critter, and we wanted to avoid that. We performed the delicate and deliberate procedure as I held the fish in the water. With the Hornet safely out, Mike went to grab the tape measure and camera. Of course the inevitable happened. Sensing my weakness, the fish thrashed mightily and loosed itself from my feeble grip. I let fly with cuss words, but did not lose hope, as I had been holding the beast in a slot in the rocky bank. Having freed itself, it lunged forward, toward the shore, not toward the river. I lunged after it, taking the spray from its violent tail swipes, and managed to grab it again. The fish splashed me some more, as my clumsy half-hand struggled to find the proper hold under its gill plate. I almost got it. With a final, mocking lunge, Lady Esox shot back into the Dream River, leaving me with water dripping from my nose and expletives streaming from my mouth.
When the action at the Jam got fractionally less frantic, we all got in the boat, and motored down to a place I’ll have to call Inconnu Alley. I wouldn't have thought there could be a thicker concentration of Conies than at the Jam itself, but it turned out there could be. We got more bites than we made casts. Yes, really. Every cast across the steady current would produce a Conie take. Often, the fish would shake off, and another one would grab the lure before you could get it back to the boat. More than once, I had three bites in a single retrieve. Double and triple hookups were the norm, and there were many quads. The Conies here were more modestly sized on average than the ones we'd been getting during our second stint at the Jam, but there were a few 40 inchers in the mix. Interestingly, they were much more acrobatic here, too, with several fish showing off their jumping abilities.
I changed lures after every three or four fish, just so that every lure could get some action. After that, I started deliberately casting outside the Conie Zone, with my biggest crankbaits, as I was convinced that Monster Pike had to be around. I hooked and lost one really good (and very strong) Pike, though not a real monster, and managed to catch a few "Minnesotas." The Inconnu had no trouble going after the big Pike lures, either.
At one point, Spruce came up with a funny idea. We would all cast into the Conie Zone simultaneously, and the last feller to get a bite would fix dinner. I was hesitant, as I am not a game winner, but before I knew it, we all let fly with our lures of choice. Mine was the last to hit the water, and I was certain I was fucked. Sure enough, Mike and Gord got hit instantly, before I had even started to reel. "See," I thought, but my thoughts would get no further, as my 2oz Lucky Craft rattler was the next to be slammed. All four of us laughed as Spruce himself somehow managed the only biteless cast of this mini session. As the westering Sun approached the tips of the highest spruce trees, the first hint of dusk announced itself, proving that time did indeed pass in this otherdimensional area. We took it as our cue to lift anchor and head back to the island for dinner.
The view from the island
When we got to the island, it was still lightish, and I could still move, which meant I had to keep fishing. The weedy glides and narrows on the downstream side had to hold some fish. Up close, I could see that these spots were a bit on the shallow side, but they still looked nice enough to comb them with some casts. I caught a few small Pike, and had some swipes and follows from similar specimens. Actual small ones, under 25 inches. On the upstream side of the island, not twenty feet from where the boat was tied off, there was a very delectable looking rocky point. The rock that was to be my casting spot sloped down into a lovely deep bowl, which was clear of weeds. Straight out, within easy casting range, lay a thick weed bed, and a long cast across the side channel to the right would almost reach the stand of reeds on the far side. I felt it out with the Blue Fox spinner I had been using at the shallow runs, but managed only one or two little pikelings. That didn't seem good enough. It was getting dark, but I sensed the spot had more to give. I looked in my lure box, and took out the Jointed X-Rap 13. That turned out to be a good choice. I flung it out towards the weed bed, and connected to something very solid right away. A minute or so into the fight, having not seen the fish yet, I called the guys over. The fight lasted a good while longer, and with each glimpse we got of the fish, it seemed to look bigger. My beloved, favorite travel rod, that I built on a 4 piece 10 weight fly blank, had bested many and mightier beasts before this, though, and a little while later I could gratefully land yet another marvellous fish. Mike snapped a few cool shots in the dusky half-light, and I sent her on her way, not even thinking to take a measurement.
Pike at dusk
The boys went back to the fire, and I made just a few last casts. It wasn't long before I made contact again, and brought in a very feisty 36ish incher. After releasing it, I joined my friends and we feasted on some great steaks and copious amounts of rice. We laughed and told stories and looked up at the stars. That night, in my tent, as I drifted in and out of fitful half-sleep, visions of big, silvery, lure-grabbing fish flashed agressively before me.
I crept out at the first hint of dawn, to find my gear covered in a delicate layer of frost. With the other guys still asleep, I figured a couple of casts from the point couldn't hurt. Second cast, the Jointed X-Rap got nailed and another heavy fight ensued. Maybe I was still dreaming. After much protesting, a thick 41.5 inch Pike came around to my side of the argument, and allowed me to take a quick photo.
Pike at dawn
Maybe a few more casts couldn't hurt, either. This also seemed like a perfect time to maybe see a Bear lumbering about on the far bank, or by The Jam in the distance, looking for breakfast. I saw no Bear, or any other wildlife, but those few more casts turned into a mini session of just under three hours that brought me six more beautiful Pike (another 41.5, three high 30s and two low 30s), about half of which I saw attack my lure, and six Inconnu. I also lost many more Inconnu than I caught, foul hooked a few, lost several Pike, including another 40+, and had numerous follows and missed swipes. I was in paradise. Almost all fish came on that Jointed X-Rap. I tossed other cranks as well, and some were ignored and some tempted a fish or two, but the Rap was the Lure of the Morning.
Jointed X-Rap did the business
As both the Sun and the temperature rose, the black flies started to become almost unbearable, so I walked back to the tents to see if anybody was moving yet. It wasn’t long before a wonderful and strengthening Canadian breakfast was sizzling on the grill, and I could tell the boys of my early catches. I might not catch as many good Pike this whole winter as I did in those few hours casting off the point, so I should have been more than content. But, of course, I couldn't wait to get up to The Jam again. Gord, however, said he really wanted to show me a spot down river. I was reluctant, because, you know, The Jam. "It's a real monster spot," Gord said, "and if it happens, it shouldn't take more than about twenty casts." "But there are monsters at The Jam itself," I thought. "Oh... Wait..." So downstream we went.
We pulled up by a deep trough between a weed bed and a rocky shelf. Gord and Mike hinted at where to cast, and I got my big, deep diving red/black crank out there. After a cast or two, I felt a very sharp tap go up the braided line and into my arm. I looked down, and there, about ten feet below us, the Biggest Pike I Have Ever Seen flanked, gave us the fin, turned away and disappeared. My mouth went dry. I tried to be funny about it, but failed. "Yeah, that was a 48," Gord said. "Sorry..." That fish will haunt me for a long time. The length of her was extremely impressive, but the head and shoulders were just nuts. I'll be back for her.
We kept casting, and I managed a solid 42 incher that looked positively small in the water, after the missed Beast. Not long after that, Spruce landed a really nice 40(?), that he didn't even deem worthy of a picture.
A solid 42, that looked small after the missed Beast
Back to The Jam we went, one last time. The action was non-stop silly. Again. Innumerable Inconnu:
And plenty Pike:
Beautiful markings on this one, and check out the Roughfish representation
The highlight came when I flicked that holy Hornet into the seam between the whitewater and the Whitefish eddy. I ripped it down and in along the rocks, and was treated to a thunderous take. It startled me, even though I suppose I was expecting it. Then came the hardest Pike fight I've ever experienced. Deep, boring runs and punishing, heavy headshakes told me right off the bat that this was going to be good. It took a long time for me to convince this fish to show itself. Even when it thrashed at the surface, the water was too rough and the Pike too angry for me to get a good look. Mike, standing on the rock to my right, could tell it was serious, and stopped casting to watch events unfold.
This was going to be good
Even with my crude, broomstickish Pike Jam rod, I still did not have much of a say in the matter. Just as I thought we were getting close to the end, the fish turned up the rage, and ran across the breadth of The Jam, straight through the white water. The Stella 4000 screamed as I'd never heard her scream before. "Are you hearing this?!" I yelled, much too loudly, at Mike. "Oh yeah," he smiled. When, finally, the fish showed us her side for the first time, I could tell that this one was about the the same size as the stunner that didn't want to get her photo taken the day before. Maybe a little bit smaller, and with very different, hard markings. Rich in color, heavy with muscle. Her frame a study in measured savagery. "That's a trophy Pike, man!" Mike confirmed. The tape told us she was 44 inches long, and though that's not the biggest or the longest Pike ever, she's right up there with the very best I have caught.
Epic Face in honor of MikeB
Not long after this, it was time to go. It had gotten progressively breezier as the day wore on. This was lovely, as it kept the swarms of black flies off us as we endulged ourselves at The Jam, but it might make for a bumpy boat ride back across the shallow lake. Best not to leave it to the very last minute, then. We felt the air as we packed up all our gear, and agreed that it shouldn't be too bad. "Yeah, if we take our time, I bet it'll be..." I started. "NO teking taim!" Gord asserted. "Ees one speed!!" He was the captain, so I did not protest. Packed tightly in Gord’s perfect boat, we took our leave and zoomed down the Dream River, leaning sexily into the bends. The bumps on the lake weren’t too bad at all, but the lump in my throat was very real. And Mike and Gord were dead serious in assuring me that the action had been kinda slow.
Many thanks to Gord, for taking us to paradise, and his subtle guidance.
Thanks to Spruce, for joining the fray and fixing so much rice.
Unspeakable thanks to Mike and Cara, for inviting me into their home, letting me experience the True North, and feeding me way too much of their great cooking.
Thanks to Mike's daughter, for holding my hand as we walked down the steps of their porch, and Mike's son, for not eating my whole hand.