Thursday, May 19, 2011

May day! It's pike time in North Idaho

Pike enthusiasts Ben Carney (r) and Dan Pierce with a lunker NI pike that hangs in Coeur d' Alene's premier fishing source, Fins and Feathers Tackle and Guide Shop on Sherman Ave. The men started the North idaho Pike Association with a page on Facebook/ Ralph Bartholdt


Its body stiff as a board, it doesn’t blink, but maybe a series of successive waves results in an undulation of its fins, a flip of tail that causes a weed stalk to flinch.
Cast there.
That is how 19-year-old Ben Carney picks up the northern pike in the shallow bays of his favorite north Idaho pike lake.
He fishes Hayden for pike whenever he can, and he often targets the same animals because, he says, pike are territorial, and especially with smaller fish, you can often cast at a pike that you hooked near a certain structure, even a clump of grass, and drag in the same fish.
He doesn't keep the fish he catches, choosing instead to toss them back into the lake for other enthusiasts to hook.
Dan Pierce, 45, a former millworker who prefers to spend his waking hours casting plugs and tube baits into aquatic cabbage patches is Carney’s fishing partner.
Standing at the edge of Hayden Lake on a glum, late spring day with snow spitting from a sky the color of concrete Pierce describes a fight with a specific pike.
“It was down there in the cabbage and we couldn’t get it up,” he says. “It just sat there.”
The fishing line was weed-wrapped and the fish was content to hunker in the foliage until Pierce reached down from the boat’s gunnels into the water with a net, bumped the pike on the head wrapped him in net and hoisted the fish to the surface.
Pierce and Carney are anticipating, with relish, the coming season’s pike tournaments. Two of the men’s favorite tournaments will be on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s southern end, a place Pierce knows well.
It is where he caught his first fish as a boy, and where his heart often travels when time strictures prohibit he make it there.
It was on Hayden Lake, though, that both men caught their biggest pike, a 29-pounder for Dan and a 19 pounder for Ben.
For these guys, pike fishing is more than salad. It is gravy.
“It’s adrenaline,” Pierce says.
Ben caught a half dozen small snakes on a recent day as he forged along the water accompanied by snow, a peppering of hail, but no other anglers. He patiently anticipates higher water when big pike move from the depths to the shallows for some aggressive spring feeding.
“In mid-May, when the water is up, the pike are going crazy,” Pierce says.
The men focus their efforts in the shallows then, throwing spinnerbaits and spoons at weedlines.
Silver minnows with a trailers or big-bladed spinners are the chosen hardware.
There are other methods: Bank fishers mostly, toss dead things, herring, smelt, suckers that are threaded with treble hooks and strung through big bobbers.
“Pike hit hard,” Ben says.
With no season, bag or possession limits, Northern Idaho is wide open for pike anglers to pursue their favorite quest. With its many lakes holding big pike, anglers like Pierce and Carney are in the right spot to pursue their passion.
Hayden Lake has long been known as a great pike lake, the men concur, but “it gets fished pretty hard,” Pierce said. “Coeur d’Alene Lake is bigger and is always good for pike.”
The state record, a 40 pound 2 ounce northern pike was hoisted from a nearby Lower Twin Lake last year by a trout fisherman. A few days later, a 32 and a 36 pounder were also taken at Lower Twin.
The men started a club called The North Idaho Pike Association with a page on Facebook.
Although mid-May shakes the arms and jiggles the jowls of many north Idaho pike anglers, it doesn’t end there.
“It’s good all the way into October,” and later, Pierce says. “If you can handle the cold, you’ll catch them.”

-Ralph Bartholdt

A more refined version of this story appears in Northwest Sportsman Magazine's May issue.

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