The twice-caught fish

Yukon anglers are familiar with the toothy and voracious Northern pike that frequent the cold waters of our outdoor playground. This is a story about an Ontario Northern pike that was caught twice on the same day by two different anglers.

As a kid, I fished pike with my father. We called them “jackfish.” When my brother-in-law, Mike Douglas, invited me to a week-long fishing tournament on the Key River in northern Ontario, I jumped at the chance. Although it had been decades since I had a jackfish on the line, I was confident that my experience with these fish would serve me well. The Key River empties into lake Huron. The spot where we fished looked like something straight out of a Group of Seven painting, the little rocky islands dotted with windblown trees.

Mike has been organizing the annual fishing trip for more than 30 years. It’s open only to friends and family. There is a trophy for the largest fish, with an engraved nameplate featuring the name of the winner and the weight of the winning fish. There is aso a cash prize for the biggest fish caught during the week, and one for the biggest fish each day. On the day in question, I caught a small pike. It wasn’t large by any means, but it also wasn’t a hammer handle which, in local parlance, refers to a small pike that resembles a claw hammer handle. It was nothing worth bragging about, but I kept it. It would be eaten the next day for our shore lunch. I ran a ¼-inch diameter nylon rope through its mouth and gills, tied it to the boat and let it swim beside us. We fished on.

Mike caught a pike, which was bigger than mine. My job as ‘not the Captain’ was to do all jobs assigned by the Captain. One of these was to net the fish. I netted Mike’s fish and turned to untie the stringer. Just as I undid the rope, Mike’s fish worked its way out of the net and was thrashing around beside me, treble hook still attached. Distracted, I focused on the new fish and removed the hook. When I looked for the rope stringer, I realized it was gone and so was my fish.

I felt bad, not just about losing the fish, but about causing the fish some considerable inconvenience with four feet of rope in its mouth. We had lunch and fished some more. I scanned the water for the pencil-thin yellow rope, but did not see it anywhere. After lunch we fished our way back to the lodge. I mentioned to Mike that I felt guilty about the fish and we both scanned the water around us for the rope. We entered a large shallow area about a kilometre from the lodge. I told Mike I wanted to look in this shallow area. “You’re the one driving,” he said.

It wasn’t long before I spotted some yellow rope on the top of the water. I maneuvered over to the rope, which Mike lifted out of the water, with my fish still attached. He gave out a cheer and we laughed. He then claimed the fish as his own. There was much discussion about whose fish it actually was. The fish was not a contender for fish of the day, or trophy fish, so it was a moot point, but we had differing opinions on who the fish belonged to. What if it had been the trophy fish? Whose name would have been engraved on the trophy? You would need a Philadelphia lawyer to untangle that legal knot. Fortunately, we did not have to decide that question, but now each has the story of the twice-caught fish to tell. That’s better than a trophy.

Pike for supper

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