The lucky green crankbait. PHOTOS BY ANDREW CREMATA
By ANDREW CREMATA
FOR THE SKAGWAY NEWS
Sky-blue damselflies hovered in midair near the shoreline where my fishing rods were leaning against a small aspen. Out over the water, smaller insects glinted beneath rays of yellow sunlight streaming down from a blue, back-lit morning sky. Up above, arctic terns chirped to one another as they twirled in flight before diving toward the surface to feed.
My percolator started to gurgle as a large dragonfly came to rest on the water beneath the melee of birds and bugs. A large fish launched skyward from below, like a torpedo shot from some unseen submarine running on silent engines. The dragonfly seemed to disappear. All that remained was a series of small wakes undulating outward in concentric circles.
Thirty minutes later my wife Brittney and I were slowly rowing our canoe over the location where the unlucky dragonfly met its demise. We trolled a green diving crankbait that was securely fastened to the line with 18-inches of wire leader. In northern pike territory, wire leader is a necessity, because their razor-sharp teeth will quickly slice through anything else.
The first bite of the day came within minutes. The fish made long initial run, but I rapidly began making up ground. That’s when it turned and quickly peeled out 30 yards of line in one short burst. I put extra pressure on the fish, pulling the rod tip upward with one steady motion. Without warning, the rod jerked forward in manic spasms as the fish regained the advantage in one surging run toward the bottom. Then the whole situation fell apart and the rod went limp.
I already knew what happened, and after reeling in the slack line my suspicions were confirmed. Somewhere above the 18-inches of wire leader, the pike’s teeth grazed the line. With a massive mouth capable of such an accomplishment, there was little doubt that the one that got away was a true lunker.
Bummed that one of my best pike lures was out of circulation, I re-rigged with a diving plug and started trolling once again. Brittney and I took turns reeling in pike ranging from 24-inches to 31-inches, the largest of which migrated swiftly into our cooler. About ten minutes after losing the lunker pike, Brittney pointed toward the water and said, “Is that your lure?”
I turned and caught sight of the crankbait as it gently floated to surface and began bobbing in the shallow wake of the canoe. It took only a few seconds to row alongside and pluck it out of the lake. The monofilament leader was cleanly sliced about an inch above the wire, confirming my earlier suspicions that the culprit was a large, toothy slough shark.
The following morning, we portaged the canoe twice en route to a distant section of the lake. The goal was to catch pike using topwater plugs in seldom-fished waters where big pike could feed uninhibited. Much like the unlucky dragonfly, topwater plugs motivate predatory fish to attack from below.
Whether this is a more effective way to catch fish is irrelevant, because watching a large pike leap from the water to terrorize its prey is rewarding whether the fish ends up in the canoe or not.
First I tried my Hula Popper, a noisy little fantail plug designed to mimic a very irresponsible frog. Nothing. Next I tried an Arbogast Jitterbug, a stubby lure that wiggles along the surface like a deranged hummingbird with motor control issues. Still nothing. Lastly I tied on a Zara Spook, which is an unfortunately-named plug that mimics nothing found in nature, but requires a specialized retrieve that makes your arm cramp up after three or four casts.
Same result. Meanwhile, Brittney caught a few cooler-worthy pike, and was starting to gloat. Fully abandoning the topwater plug concept, I rigged up my long-lost green crankbait and made a few casts before something went wrong.
It’s important to explain how a crankbait is intended to function. The floating lure has a lip that causes it to dive below the surface as the angler reels. This action makes the crankbait mimic the swimming motion of a fat minnow attempting an escape to deeper water. Beads are inserted into the body cavity of the plug by the manufacturer, which causes it to make a rattling sound. This combination of attractants works on a variety of fish, whether they predate by sight, sound or motion.
As I began reeling in my crankbait, instead of diving and swimming, it ran about two inches below the surface while rotating in distended circles.
This meant that one of the hooks had become tangled in the wire leader, presumably rendering it ineffective. This is a relatively common occurrence with all sorts of lures, but there’s nothing that can be done to resolve the problem until reeling it in and clearing the hook from the leader.
I reeled the crankbait in about halfway to the canoe as Brittney hooked into a pike of her own. It turned out to be a large fish, one of the largest of the day, so I set my rod down, grabbed the net, and quickly swooped it up.
During this action, my crankbait floated to the surface and sat there for about 10 seconds.
Much like the hapless dragonfly from the previous day, my lure was suddenly engulfed by a massive, ill-tempered, hungry pike with little regard for table manners. I grabbed up my fishing rod and set the hook. After landing my own big pike and putting both fish in the cooler, I wrapped the wire firmly around the hook so it wouldn’t accidentally twist free.
I spent the rest of the morning catching large pike on my makeshift topwater crankbait. Some of them surged toward the lure from behind and engulfed it with a flip of the tail. Others jumped completely out of the water and crashed back into the crankbait as they fell back to the water.
Sometimes the pike hit the lure so hard that they missed it entirely. Pausing the retrieve was the key to getting a bite. It also made the hits far more dramatic.
After limiting out, we watched a large bull moose feeding in shallow water. It dropped its head entirely below the surface, and when it reemerged, water cascaded from its antlers while it slowly chewed.
As we headed back to camp, I considered designing a new type of lure that mimics the action of that ridiculously lucky crankbait. It violates pretty much every rule of fishing, but nobody can argue with success.