A perfect complement to pike
As thick as my leg but longer, the big northern pike was obviously in ambush mode.
A face big enough to engulf a football, with enough sharp teeth to pop it like a soap bubble, faced into the current, looking for something to ravage.
Neither Arnold Stene nor I could oblige it.
"Cast and catch him," my friend said. "I've got a big one on."
"Me, too," I said, holding a fly rod bent into a C. "They're everywhere; it's every man for himself, eh!"
We laughed as we battled bookend pike of about 41 inches.
Since we met about 20 years ago, Stene and I have laughed and battled huge pike many times.
The Cree guide was about 24 when a buddy and I met in the far north. He obviously knew fishing and loved it dearly.
There was no "too far to go" or "takes too much time" in his vocabulary.
That first day we were late for a shorelunch when we checked a bay and saw huge pike scattered around like logs in a log jam.
When I mentioned we were late for lunch, Stene cast a sly smile and we soon arched casts that brought fish speeding toward lures like torpedoes. We all hooked into great fish.
"They're everywhere; it's every man for himself, eh!" Stene shouted as he tossed the net into the middle of the boat. We were an hour late for lunch.
July 1 was my seventh trip since to fish the waters 400 miles north of the nearest McDonalds.
Minutes into this year's first morning, we were laughing and scheming about my four days.
During three of them we fished local waters, though sometimes 20 or so liquid miles from the lodge. We caught many pike on those days, including a pair I fly-caught that measured 44 1/2 and 45 1/2 inches.
One day we took a float-plane to adventure.
His ideas have never let me down. Once he asked my son Jerrod and I to do a two-hour-each-way boat ride in 40-something degree rain.
We caught 30-plus pike of more than 35 inches. It's probably our best fly-fishing ever.
This year we did the same trek in lower water.
At a broad shoal of water only inches deep above jagged boulders, we went overboard and dragged and pushed the boat about 250 yards.
To get to the promised bay, Stene threaded the current-driven needle through tight boulders and wooden snags that almost had me to the point of prayers.
We were still in the rough water when I rolled a short cast into an eddy and a 40-incher crashed my parakeet-sized fly.
Seconds after it was released, the current pushed us into the memorable bay where we were the first anglers in nearly a year.
The water was so clear we could see packs of big pike below the boat.
All seemed to share an "If I see it, I'll eat it" state of mind.
I think I hooked nice pike on my first nine casts from an eddy that bordered where the rapids met the bay. Stene did well, too.
We talked a lot and about more than fishing.
Years ago he'd mastered a fly rod I'd given him for a tip. He shared stories of 30-pound lake trout and four-foot pike that had taken his flies. Stene was enthralled by my stories of fly-fishing for 100-pound sailfish in Panama.
He's an avid hunter and mining camp chef in the offseason so we swapped hunting stories and wild game recipes.
I pried the humble hero for the story of when he was on a float plane that crashed in a lake. His actions rescuing five people earned him one of Canada's highest honors for valor.
Three times that afternoon we did the "just one more cast" as we tried to leave the bay. They produced three pike of more than 40 inches, including the double mentioned above.
In all, we landed more than 100 pike, 10 of which were between 40 and 43 inches.
It took Stene 20 minutes to carefully pilot the boat back up the rapids.
Dragging the boat across the shoals was easier as we followed the glittering breadcrumb trail of aluminum scrapes on rocks from our drag in.
We were the last to make it back to the launch site for the flight to the lodge.
That's something else that's always happened when we fish together.
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