I hiked down the two track, swatting at deer flies and mosquitoes determined to make me their breakfast. After almost a mile I was there. I heard the white noise of the gushing dam well before I saw it. This was a spot I’ve been wanting to fish for a while. The dam is only accessible by a mile through the woods on foot, or farther by boat. I like places like that. I figured I’d have a nice hike, break in my new hiking boots, and maybe catch a few smallies. I tossed a tube jig – one of my go-to river smallmouth lures – and got nothing. Maybe it was too subtle, perhaps it couldn’t compete with the wild boils of the dam. I switched to a black spinner and immediately caught a cute little smallmouth bass. Hooray!I cast the lure out into the slower water, knowing that bigger fish often like to hang out in the areas near but not in the fast water. I was right! At first I thought I’d snagged a log. Then it started swimming away! The pull of the fish was so great my light action rod turned into a U, the six-pound line on my reel – intended for trout – was pulled tight like a guitar string. Although I was invigorated by the unknown beast on the end of my line, I was also concerned about my line or rod snapping under the pressure.

As I battled the creature I imagined what it could be. A giant, personal best smallmouth bass? A huge catfish? Carp? Sucker? It felt big. At any moment I expected my wispy line to snap, ill-equipped for such a battle. I was also unprepared for hooking such a beast; no waders, no net, no grippers, just a small selection of fishing gear. This was just a quick hike to a dam! I didn’t expect to connect with anything so fierce. After fifteen minutes fighting the fish, I caught a glimpse of its spots, for just a second, as it thrashed and made another run to escape. A pike!! A big pike! Even without seeing the whole fish I knew it was the biggest northern pike I’d ever hooked. A rush of adrenaline coursed through me, and I moved closer to the water, determined to, somehow, land this river monster. It took three tries, but eventually I was able to get the exhausted fish close enough to me I could wrap my fingers around its tail, holding it in the water.

Wow, what an amazing creature.I stuck my phone between some rocks and picked up the slippery, slimy, toothy animal. It was heavy! Using the camera timer I snapped some shots of us, the ecstatic mammal and the (probably) annoyed fish. One of the biggest fish I’ve ever caught!I considered the logistics of taking this fish home. It would provide many meals, and would be tasty (I love pike!) but in my experience the smaller fish are usually better eating. I’d also have to carry it a mile back to the truck. I didn’t have a cooler with me, and it was getting hot.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics of fishing (what else is new, right?) and I don’t love the idea of so seriously inconveniencing a fish purely for sport; if I’m going to potentially hurt a creature with hooks or a long battle, I should keep and eat it. On the other hand, I knew that pikes were extremely tough, and this monster would simply shrug it off and get back to being a top-tier predator. So I returned it to the water, holding its tail, waiting for it to regain its energy. It only took a minute, then with a ferocious splash- which soaked me- its beautiful spots and mouth full of teeth disappeared into the dark water.

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