Part Eighty-eight

Randy Fratzke

A Big Fish for a Small Boat

By Randy Fratzke

A few weeks ago I came out of hibernation and back into the sunlight of FAOL. I started writing and hosting after a long 'sabbatical.' I guess I needed a little time off or something. Since I've been back I've gotten a lot of questions about whether or not I've ever seen or caught the big Northern Pike that I've chased for the last two years.

It was last September, somewhere near the middle of the month, on a hot day mid-week. I was out in my little flat bottom, fishing for crappies along the far shore with my 9' 4wt. Just relaxing, having fun in the shade, tossing little poppers about the size of miniature marshmallows. I was really having to practice my roll casting in order to get above the tree roots sticking out of the water, leftovers from the spring and summer floods, but keeping the line low enough not to get hung up in the branches of the trees on shore. The crappies weren't monsters or giant slabs, just good eating size. The biggest problem was their location, and I think they knew it as well as me! I'd been there about an hour when all of a sudden the action stopped. To me that could only mean one thing, a bigger fish had moved in and the crappies had headed for cover.

I reeled in the 4wt and got out the 6wt. I'd already tied on a copy of a large yellow/orange streamer that Clive Schaupmeyer had sent me from Canada. I'd been using them off and on during the summer and they do work well for bass and larger fish. Little did I know, just how well and how big!

I cast the streamer downstream, the only way I could cast, a sidearm roll cast. It was a short cast, only about 25 feet. I slowly started working the fly up stream, slowly, erratic, letting the current play it like a wounded minnow. As it neared the boat I saw a rise, then nothing, a little swirl in the current. I carefully gathered the line being careful of the anchor rope that was tied to the tree stump and cast again, only about 20 feet, with a loud 'Plop.' Sloppy cast but it was out there. I slowly started working it back towards the boat again, twitching, playing out and mending it in slowly.

Again, about 6 feet from the boat there was actually a rise in the water, like a hump, or a wave from under the water, coming up to the surface. A flash or sparkle from something under the water. A bass, a walleye, maybe a northern, or just the current playing with my mind? It was the wrong time of day for the big guy to be out. His feeding pattern had been running towards 6:00 and it was only 3:30. My son, Karl, and I had watched him take a hen mallard just a few days earlier. Karl was in total awe. He'd never seen a fish with such vengeance, speed, and killer instinct in fresh water.

I cast a third time, preoccupied with my thoughts instead of the cast. The line caught the top of the tree root and fell into the water in a heap about 8 feet from the rod tip. I quickly started gathering it in to recast.

Suddenly, the water beneath the line swelled, there was a loud sucking sound, and the fly disappeared into a huge, toothy maw. It was the monster, the northern I'd been hunting for the last two years!

The 22 plus pounds of duck eating, flesh, scales, and teeth was on the other end of my line.

The line that was lying in the water. I didn't know whether to reel in the line or mend it into the boat with my hand. I chose the reel, figuring at least I would have some drag control to help with the fight. I started slowly reeling in the line, not exactly sure if it was hooked or just mouthing the fly.

As the slack line wound onto the reel my anxieties mounted.

Here I am, alone in a 10 ft flat bottom john boat that's only about 45 inches wide, with a 6wt rod, 9 ft long, that is reaching across a downed stump with no room to fight or run.

Suddenly, the line tightened.

I hadn't even realized how fast I'd been reeling in the line and suddenly it was taut. Then it was ripping off the spool faster than I'd put it on. Downstream, then out into the channel. I'm just holding on, trying to keep the tip up and away from the fingers of roots and branches sticking up out of the water.

The reel screamed as the line went out, well into the backing. It was all going too fast for me to react. I finally started palming the reel to slow the fish down. All of a sudden the line went slack.

The first thing that came to mind was another break off. I started reeling in, then there was a tug. The fish was swimming back upstream towards me!

I reeled line like mad. Suddenly it turned and headed straight for the tree roots next to the boat. I lifted with everything I had, trying to keep the fish from burying itself in the roots and tangling my line.

Slowly, I could feel the fish rising toward the surface. My arms ached already and it hadn't been even 10 minutes. Finally, the fish came to the surface. I looked at the dorsal fin and saw the place they'd tagged it three years ago. The tag had ripped out, ripping part of the dorsal fin in the process. The fish was huge, at least 43 or 44 inches. A scar ran across its face from a previous battle.

It was just sitting there in the water, looking at ME!

Then a very scary thought ran through my mind, if I managed to net this monster and get it into this little boat with me what are my chances of rowing back across the river and still having my body intact.

The teeth were huge, hanging out over its upper lip like a crocodile. We sat there looking at each other for about 30 seconds.

Then I very slowly reached down and picked up my hemostats and cautiously reached down for the fly hanging out of it's upper lip. I was more scared at that point than I think I've ever been in my life. I'd seen what it had done to ducks and I did not want my hand to be shredded like yesterdays hamburger. I carefully locked the hemostats onto the hook, then quickly twisted and pulled the hook out.

The whole time the fish just sat there, watching me. It slowly sank down in the water, then with a swish of its tail, went under the boat and out of site.

I sat there, stunned, astonished, sweating, and shaking. Unable to even untie the boat for 15 minutes and row back to the dock.

While I sat there in the boat the two neighbors walked down to the bank, laughing. They had seen what had happened, watched the fight, saw the fish and thought that I'd gone into some trance or something and were just coming down to check on me. One of them made the comment that this was the first time they'd ever seen me bite off something bigger than I could chew, and admit it. Until next time! ~ Randy Fratzke

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