Welcome to Panfish

Part Thirty-three

It's Back...!

By Randy Fratzke

Scene 1: Flash back to September / October, 1998. I'd seen one of the largest Northern Pike in my life, right in front of my cabin, along the river front. This monster has taken out numerous fish, ducks, minks and nearly my mind in my attempt to catch it on a fly rod. It has snapped my lines, broken my hooks, stripped my line and tied it in knots, along with a lot of my dignity. I had sat along the shore for hours waiting for it to show itself, fighting mosquitoes, black flies, boredom, and excitement only to have it disappear and it's feeding pattern broken up by late season rains that brought a lot of high waters.

Scene 2: Flash back to present. It's a little earlier in the week, I'm sitting on my deck. It's early morning, around 7 A.M. The sun is just starting to peak through the morning fog. I'm watching the Bald Eagle sitting on a dead tree, overhanging the river where he normally perches for his breakfast. What a beautiful bird we have for our national symbol. It's been an unusually warm fall and winter again, so far. The river is still open for the most part, although the back water shallows are iced over and there is a sheet of ice along the shore line that reaches out about 8 feet. Winter is slowly reaching out to take the land into it's cold grasp. There are still a few Mallard ducks hanging around, testing to see if the river will really close up, forcing them to move on or stay open, allowing them access to their food. Suddenly, the entire silence is broken by a huge splashing, frothing sound. The water beneath the dead tree where the Eagle is sitting is frothing like a blender. The Eagle lets out a loud scream, like he's frustrated that something had stolen the breakfast from his beak, and flies upstream. The ducks across the river, near the opposite shore line all take flight, squawking on their take off. I sit straight up in my chair, spilling the cup of coffee in my fright / excitement / curiosity. "What the.......???" "Could it be??", I'm thinking. The take was the same, the fast launch, like a torpedo coming from the depths and impaling an unsuspecting fish from beneath, then nearly clearing the water in it's momentum while it flayed it's prey in it's huge jaws. I'm sure. It had to be! Nothing else acted that aggressive or used that pattern. The monster Northern Pike was back!

Talk about total frustration...all the fishing gear is packed away for the winter. Lines cleaned and stripped from the reels and stored away neatly. All the flies have been sorted, the good ones put in their proper boxes, the ones in need of repair put in a styrofoam board up in the tackle room, to be taken care of later in the winter when cabin fever sets in. The boat has been winterized and stored for the season. All the proper preparation, and what happens??? My nemesis returns! Comes back to show me he's still here, uncaught, unchallenged, untouched! My first reaction is to grab my gear and head for the rivers edge. Then reality hits....it would take an hour just to get everything together. And if I did, there's still the eight feet of ice along the shore line that I'd have to fight even if I did happen to get him on. And more than likely, if he didn't break me off, as he'd done many times before, the ice would surely cut through the line. No way to do it. Total frustration, yet complete wonder.

Where had he been since September? What battles had he fought? Why was he back here now (other than just to tease me? That's a little irrational, Randy ...a fish coming back to tease an angler, get a grip!) Lots of questions, no answers, except one, he was back, he was feeding and he was putting on one heck of a show.

I've watched him now for several days, early morning and late afternoon feeding. The same pattern as he'd used earlier in the year with a few modifications for the season. I'd seen him hide under the edge of the ice along the shoreline, lying there unseen from the ducks that fly in overhead. After they "get comfortable" he shoots from his hidden lair and takes one under. He seems to have a preference for hens, although I have no idea how he can tell their legs and feet apart from the drakes... I've also seen him leap out from under a large log to grasp a weasel or mink sitting near the waters edge of the log, cleaning it's food or preening itself. It's the same technique, speed, agility, grasp the "victim", flay it a few times, dive deep, drown it, and devour. I've calmed my desires to dig out my gear and "go-a- hunting'" at this time of year. I know one false step and I'd be in the water, and within minutes hypothermia would take over. No, I'll wait. I'm a patient man. Spring will be here, and with any luck, so will he. I'll have another try, another day, another season. For now, just sit, sip my coffee, take notes, and watch....and dream!

Happy Holidays! ~ Randy Fratzke

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