For almost five generations now, my mother's side of the family has had a cottage on the middle basin of Lake James, Indiana. My great grandfather was one of the first to build on the lake. Like most retreats in those days it was a quiet, wild, natural place. The shores were lined with hardwoods in all directions, dotted here and there by quaint cottages. Some of those cottages still stand today, and ours is one of them.
There were no speed boats or tubers or jet ski's or yachts in those days. But if the sun-bleached portraits that hung from the walls in our cottage during my youth were any indication, there were pike.... a lot of them. One photo in particular depicted my great grandfather and a fishing buddy hoisting a pair of three-footers in the side yard. The image is permanently burned into my memory. But each summer, no matter what I tried, where I looked or who I talked to, I couldn't catch a pike for the life of me. In fact, I was in my 20's before I even laid eyes on one. It was dead and floating.
Pike are supposed to be easy to catch. They're aggressive to their own detriment. Despite (or because of) their commitment to destroying anything that moves, in many freshwater fisheries they're considered more of a nuisance than a sport fish. Three-footers are not uncommon throughout most of their range, and four-footers are a real possibility in certain fisheries. For all this, and despite all my angling travels, I'd yet to encounter one.
I've continued to put in the time and effort to break the curse in recent years. A firm believer in the concept of fishing karma, I've tied the flies, done the exploring, and logged hundreds of cold, wind-torn, fishless March and April hours trying to find these water wolves. I've had not so much as a swirl to show for it.
Over Memorial Day weekend my pregnant bride and I made a trip up to the lake. Victor and I launched the kayak for the ritualistic early morning session. We took some nice greenies on poppers but saw no signs of Esox Lucius.
I had time off the following week to ply some big water a little closer to home. My buddy Mark and I had a great day, fishing in and out of a rolling fog that added a little edge to the morning. Despite it being one of the better mixed bag days that I've had (including perch, rock bass, carp on the flats, shots at bowfin, and of course the beloved bronzeback) the pike curse continued; a surprise two-footer came all the way to the net before biting me off.
The following weekend, however, brought about the long awaited opportunity to really hone in and target some teeth. Our buddy Nate had offered to give us the tour of some big water - Big, clear water with hungry post-spawn pike. As promised, he found them and the fish lived up to their reputation; When presented with a fly they quickly went into seek and destroy mode. The follows were exhilarating, the eats were savage, and I've got to say... it felt really good to break the pike curse.
I can only hope that the future of this story will play out something like the fortunes of the Red Sox after they put to rest the curse of the bambino. For now though I'm happy to have that monkey off my back and jonesing for that next Esox eat...