My First REALLY BIG Fish

Posted by MNAngler On August - 12 - 2009

36" Northern PikeSpecies: Northern Pike
Size: 36″
Lure used: Coca-cola colored (and branded) rattlin’ Rapala

Date: Summer, 2002
Time: approx. 11am – 3pm
Body of water: secret lake
Location: Gunflint Trail
Weather Conditions: [don't remember]



I had been going up to Ken’s cabin for a couple of years and we had always only fished his lake, Poplar Lake. One day we got a visit from Ken’s sister and niece, my aunt-in-law and cousin-in-law, if you will.

They mentioned a small lake a few miles down the road where someone pulled out a 23-lb northern. They heard about it because their cabin was on the lake one portage over.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of Minnesota, a portage is a trail from one lake to another. It can be a well groomed path like a nature trail, or it could be like a path through the woods that was created by a small convoy of moose, rough and barely visible. This portage was more like the latter.

Ken and I decided we should take a day trip to that lake, so the next day, we packed up a lunch and headed to Ken’s sister’s cabin. Being family, they had no issue with us borrowing one of their canoes, which saved us the hassle of loading Ken’s canoe on his truck.

We got over to Ken’s sister’s at about 10am. Her lake is known for its trout, so we trolled their lake during the hour paddle to the portage. Ken had brought his new black and white depth finder, but when you’re walking about 600 ft with a canoe on your back and gear to carry, you try to slim down. We left it at the front of the portage.

When we got to our destination, we put in and started casting on the shore. We went down the South shore and got nothing. We stopped to eat lunch and went down the North shore. Still nothing. We were now wishing we had brought the fish finder with us so we could at least see where the fish were in the lake.

We went more down the middle the third time and still weren’t getting even a nibble. It started to get late (about 2pm) and we decided it was time to start thinking about heading home.

We were at the opposite end of the lake from the portage, so we decided to troll our way back to the exit. As we got to the middle of the lake, we got hit. Then we got hit again. They were both smaller northern, but about 3-5 lbs each.

Battle torn Coca-cola rattlin' RapalaThe third hit was mine. I had on a Coca-cola branded rattlin’ Rapala (what better way to combine two of my loves). It was a good tug and when I got it close to the canoe, it made a run. My drag screamed. I managed to get it near the boat again and my drag screamed again like it was being tortured. I think a third run was squelched before we were finally able to net it and get it in the canoe. It was, of course, a northern. And a monster. It didn’t even occur to me how big until Ken said something. The measurement later would show it to be 11 lbs 4 oz.

I think we boated one more northern before things just stopped again. No bites, no nibbles, no nothing.

We called it a day and headed back through the portage with what we would later find out to be about 20 lbs of fish in hand. When we got home, the family was abuzz with the sight of the stringer. We took measurements and found my monster to be about 36″, about as long as my 2 year old daughter at the time was tall. As you can see by the picture above, my daughter was almost as thrilled with the fish as I was.

Since that day, we’ve talked about going back to the little lake a lot, but it’s a bit of a todo to pack a lunch, go to Ken’s sister’s place, pick up a canoe, paddle down the one lake, and hike the portage. There are a lot of easier fishing options, so we’ve only made it back once. That second time, the same thing happened where the fish only bit for about an hour around 2pm. Ken boated a nice northern about 9 lbs that trip that we released, thinking we’d be back for it another day.

We’ll probably go back again, and knowing what I know now, we can be a bit more efficient with our time. Perhaps we can pull in a mega-monster that will beat the story that started us down this road to begin with.


5 Responses to “My First REALLY BIG Fish”

  1. Optimista says:

    I landed a northern that I recall being about this size when I was a teenager. I was fishing OFF A DOCK at a place I remember being called Leech Lake. Is there such a place? I bugged and bugged my parents to stuff & mount the fish, but they (wisely) refused. They have a photo of me with the thing somewhere…I should dig it up next time I’m home.

  2. MNAngler says:

    Yes, Leech Lake is a very famous lake in Northern Minnesota (at least among Minnesotans). It has monster Northern pike, so it’s not surprising you got one off a dock. Mounting such a fish would have been an expensive proposition, so it’s not surprising your parents refused. I would love to see a picture!

  3. P.J. says:

    That’s a nice pike!

  4. That’s the great part of fishing, there is always a first to be had and a great story to go with it. I’m not much for fishing for toothy guys, but I not going to not catch them if they bite.

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