Hank the northern pike

One of the things I promised myself when I decided to take the sports reporter job at the Times was that I’d be open to trying any and every opportunity that came my way.
I reasoned that Fort Frances, with its pristine environment, would offer an entirely new world of outdoor opportunities not available to me living in Toronto.
It didn’t take me long upon arriving in town to realize some of my pre-conceived notions concerning sports and leisure activities in Northern Ontario were more or less accurate.
I knew coming into the job that covering fishing was going to be an important part of my responsibilities. The problem? I hadn’t been fishing in more than 15 years and my experience with the sport was basic at best.
With the Emo Walleye Classic and the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship rapidly approaching, I was beginning to sweat. I couldn’t tell the difference between the two species of fish if they were side by side, so how the heck was I going to cover a tournament?
I sought out Times publisher Jim Cumming to help me with the problem. Jim listened as I voiced my concerns, smiled, and said, “Well, we’d best get you out fishing.”
We discussed a few possible dates and decided this past Sunday would work best for all involved.
Now, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the prospect of going fishing. Just because I was open to trying the sport out didn’t mean I actually was going to enjoy it.
To me, fishing was all about sitting around in a boat with a line in the water hoping some fish would be silly enough to take the bait and bite. Where’s the excitement in that? It sounded like a waste of a day to me.
I mentioned my concerns to a friend of mine over the phone a few nights later. She, having grown up in Sault Ste. Marie, told me fishing was fantastic and I was in for a real treat.
Still, I was skeptical.
And as my alarm sounded at 7 a.m. on Sunday, I couldn’t help but curse fishing. I’m not a morning person and I don’t get to sleep in very often. This was going to be a long day.
However, I put on a happy face and off I went.
I met Jim and his son, Brendan, at Hoffman’s landing a short while later. They took me across the lake, fed me a wonderful breakfast, and we were ready to go.
As we set out across Rainy Lake for Rice Bay, I began looking at my surroundings. I was stunned. The beauty of the region is breathtaking. Having lived in a concrete jungle for the better part of this decade, I appreciate the beauty of trees—and clean water.
We arrived in Rice Bay a few minutes later. Jim found a nice little cove and handed out the rods. He tied a grub lure to the end of my line and told me to start out sitting in the boat trolling my line.
“All right,” I thought, “this is easy enough. Not terribly exciting, but easy.”
A few minutes later, I experienced my first problem of the day. I was pretty sure I’d managed to let out too much line and I’d hooked my grub on the bottom of the lake.
A little embarrassed, I handed my rod to Brendan explaining what I’d done. It took all of two pulls for him to figure out the problem. I’d hooked a fish.
Excited, I took the rod back and began reeling. My rod curved at the weight of the fish. It was big. So big, in fact, that it snapped my line and stole my lure.
From that point on, I was sold. All my pre-conceived notions of the sport went out the window. This was great. I couldn’t wait for Jim to attach another lure to my line.
Minutes later, I was back at it determined to hook the monster that’d stolen my lure.
Twenty minutes after my first near fish experience, I hooked another. And this one I actually managed to get into the boat. It was a three-pound northern pike.
As it was the first fish I had ever caught I decided he needed a name. I came up with Hank. Hank the Northern Pike. I couldn’t have been prouder.
As the morning wore on, I reeled in four more fish: two bass, another northern pike, and a 23-inch walleye.
I also managed to lose another lure to a large fish (I’m convinced it’s the same one). If anyone out there catches a fish with two lures stuck in him, please let me know.
Jim and Brendan just shook their heads as the walleye came on board. My inexperience shone through as I asked them if it was a good-sized fish. They assured me it was.
Morning soon turned to afternoon—and the fish stopped biting (I guess they enjoy an afternoon nap as much as I do). As we headed back to the dock, I couldn’t help but be proud of my day.
I’d caught five fish, didn’t hook myself or anyone else in the boat while casting, and didn’t fall out of the boat at any point—a smashing success.
All kidding aside, I can’t wait to get back out on the water. I may even look into getting a fishing rod.
I’m also no longer dreading the fishing tournaments. I can’t wait to get out to Emo this Friday and see what the pros manage to pull out of the river. But most of all, I want to see how my 23-inch walleye stands up against them.

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