What’s a Pike Between Friends?

I couldn’t help but feel guilty as we began to unpack our ice fishing gear from the pickup. It was tough to shake the feeling that I was playing hooky. The three of us were about to realize one of those dream-come-true moments.

It was just a simple trip to one of our local lakes. As a matter of fact, there was really nothing special at all about our outing except for the fact that it was taking place on a Tuesday. However, it wasn’t just a Tuesday, but a Tuesday morning. This was significant, as we were at a lake instead of being at school or at work. The three of us could finally see our careers in the rearview mirror though, as we were all now newly retired.

Rick Fowler and I had over 75 rewarding years of teaching high school between us while Grant Martinchek had finished up a successful career of management in banking and plastics. Of course, we had seen each other throughout the years, but with all the responsibilities of family, marriage and work, all too often our escapades were few and far between.

It felt as if no time had passed at all, and we easily picked up right where we had left off four decades ago when we were young bucks. Back then we were constant compadres, and now here we were again able to enjoy each other’s company. Indeed, life was good.

Little did we know that this was going to be one of those days we would never forget.

We had loaded up our sleds with all of the requisite equipment and had begun our adventure onto the ice. It was quite the crisp morning, but azure skies promised that the sun would soon be beaming down on us. We were trying to be as quick as possible—as fast as anyone who’s gone ice fishing before can tell you who knows it doesn’t take long to heat up after setting up, only to freeze yourself off afterward. We had the system down and drilled six holes through the 18 inches of ice. The plan was to go with five holes inside the shanty and one outside for a tip-up. With the three of us working, it wasn’t long before we were inside. My pop-up is a palatial 90-by-90-inch shelter, so the three of us could easily fish together within its confines.

Steam billowed forth from our hot coffee as the propane heater hummed away. The sun, which now had risen, was gracing our shanty. Good-natured barbs were exchanged and laughter filled the warming air as we reveled in the glory of our current situation and pitied our former co-workers, knowing what lay ahead of them for their workday.

Jig heads with minnows were the order of the day and the usual suspects were walleyes and perch, but we knew that we’d also have to contend with northern pike. With the bright sunshine and all our window flaps up, we could easily see all the way to the bottom through our holes. We were sitting above 10 feet of crystal-clear water and the stage was set.

The morning progressed and the fish began to cooperate, but not as much as we had hoped. Actually, the action turned quite slow, but as is usually the case the lack of activity was easier to accept, what with all the free-flowing conversation.        Suddenly, I spied a sizable northern darting across the hole.

“Somebody’s going to get a hit!” I yelled, as my line went immediately tight.

At the same time, Rick’s rod took a deep bend—both of us had simultaneous hits.

After several minutes, the pike then ran with my line; Rick’s drag began to sing its song. After the initial run, I slowly began to retrieve my line and eventually I could see the irritated pike coming into view. Rick too learned he had hooked a good-sized northern.

As my pike neared the bottom of the hole, I tried to position him so I could bring him up. Try as I might, I could not get him turned. Rick was facing a similar dilemma and couldn’t get his fish to turn either. Whenever I got the pike near the bottom of the hole, Rick’s drag would go out and vice-versa. Of course, it didn’t take long to discover that Rick and I were trying to land the same fish.

I turned to him and we both agreed that we needed a new plan of attack for the big northern.

I then brought “our” prize to the bottom of the hole, but could not tell which of us had hooked him in the mouth. I suggested to Rick that I would slowly let my line out as he reeled in his. That’s what we did—but to no avail. We still had this brute flat up beneath the ice, perpendicular to the hole where Rick was seated. There was no way he was coming up like that. Then we tried going back my way and I was able to decipher that the northern had taken my yellow jig head in its mouth and had hooked himself on the side with Rick’s black jig head. All of this didn’t matter though, as the pike continued to lay parallel to the bottom of the sheet of ice.

As Rick and I played tug-of-war with the northern, Grant sat back and patiently watched our fruitless efforts. Then he suggested another approach.

He rolled up his sleeve and tried to reach down to grab the pike by the gills, but the ice was too thick; he got his hand nowhere near the target. Next, he grabbed my long-handled ice scoop and tried to snag him in the gills with that—again, no luck.

“I’m going in after him,” Grant said, calmly surveying the whole situation.

Rick and I just looked at each other. Grant proceeded to unzip and remove his jacket, hat, neck-warmer, top of his bibs, his sweatshirt and yes, his long johns top.

There he was—unflappable and bare-chested. We were dumbfounded and could only pray that he would stop right there. Grant asked me to hand over the car mat that I used as a barrier between my boots and the ice. He used this to lie down on the ice near the immobilized pike that was still patiently awaiting our next move.

Grant then slowly reached down into the freezing water and back out. He did this a few times, and every time he immersed half of himself and got his hand near the pike it just slowly bobbed a few inches lower beneath his grasp.

By now, Grant was starting to shiver. He tried yet again, but just couldn’t reach it.

Finally, Rick and I adjusted, easing up a little here and tugging a bit there, and we were then finally able to give Grant a better shot at reaching this brute’s gills.

Once again, Grant lowered himself into the freezing waters. He reached and reached again until finally he got a hold of the pike. He then hoisted him right through the ice—mission accomplished!

It only took three of us to catch one fish. Not bad, not bad at all. At least we could all go home and say we caught a pike. For his heroic efforts through the icy waters, it was decided that Grant would take our fish home for dinner.

Had anyone else been out on the ice that morning they would’ve heard the clamor of hoots and hollers of three great friends closing in on a catch.

Before this adventure, the three of us have been through many experiences together, both the good and the bad, and especially the carefree times of our youth when we thought we were invincible and saw the world as our playground. We sometimes marvel at how we ever came through those times unscathed. Ultimately, when all is said and done, one can say that the three of us have been blessed to be able to call each other a friend.