Pike Records

by Louis Bignami

Pike get and give no quarter. Except the lowly burbot, the pike is the only freshwater fish native to both hemispheres. So it is strong testimony to their survival skills that they flourish even where past methods include shooting, choking, netting, stranding, gaffing, nightlining, marooning, stunning, pitchforking and trimming -- the last is a sort of Britannic jug fishing. The "sporting" British did worse than that too! In 1801 the Reverend W.B. Daniel, in his book Rural Sports, suggested readers tie a minnow-baited line to a goose's foot and let the goose haul the pike into the bank! The Reverend Daniel noted, "The goose usually won." With such arcane methods it's no wonder that of the top 100 pike of all time, Europeans have captured 99. Still, American's can't tout their sportsmanship either. Vermont has a short season where pike are shot during spawning!

NORTH AMERICAN RECORDS

The only American pike to break into the top 100 is Peter Dubuc's 46-pound, 2-ounce fish, the current North American record. It was caught more than 50 years ago in 1940 from New York's Sacandaga Lake. According to Ron Kolodziej, a well-known outdoor writer and guide on the lake, "No photo of the fish exists. I've looked for photos for a couple of years. I heard Dubuc didn't want to pay $52.50 to have his fish stuffed and mounted. So he ate the fish. He died, and I can't even find the relatives."

While details seem lost in the confusion of W.W.II, and a few skeptics doubt the size of the fish, it seems well-authenticated. Since it cost $1 an inch to mount fish then, the fish was 52 1/2-inches long.

Klodziej notes, "Dubuc owned a cabin on the lake and was a regular on the water. A compulsive fisherman, he also tied for the New York State Largemouth record. He reportedly took the fish on 12 pound test line with a 4-foot copper leader. Nobody knows the details except that the fight lasted nearly an hour."

Since the fish was almost certainly a female -- big pike are almost without exception females -- it could have contained two or three pounds of eggs just before spawning. Nobody bothered to check out the cleaned weight. The fish could have been holding three to six pounds of ingested baitfish too. So the weight seems consistent with the length.


Even a pretty large fish looks small in comparison to the records.

PHOTO: LOUIS BIGNAMI

A recent 39-pound catch from the lake, by Gino Terenzetti, supports the measurements and weight of the Dubuc pike. The fish, taken in May, had just spawned and, except for Terenzetti's 10-inch long sucker, was empty. Add in 2- or 3-pounds of eggs and a baitfish one-third the pike's 51-inch length that might weigh 3 or 4 pounds. If it were a walleye that size might have added six pounds. Pike, it should be noted, prefer prey species about one-third their length. Given these considerations Dubuc's record seems more than possible.

Other big Sacandaga pike seem possible too. In a 1984 State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation publication, Phil Johnson reported on Sacandaga's Pike. He cited the claims of a Mr. Cornell, a local and trophy fisherman who had landed at least 20 pike 40 inches or longer.

Cornell reported, "I was fishing late on a windy, rainy day in early May. I had caught and released one fish that measured 38 inches. When rerigging the line I decided to try as bait a 24-inch long sucker I had been saving."

"When the pike hit, it nearly cleared all the line from my reel. Then it stopped. I thought I had lost the fish so I just reeled in steadily, figuring the resistance at the other end was just the bait being dragged through the water. But it wasn't.

"The reel was almost fully rewound when I saw the pike. It apparently saw the boat at the same instant. It rolled over and took off. I honestly believe it was 60 inches long. No freshwater fish in the world could break that line on a straight run. That pike did."

Johnson reports, "Using a generally accepted formula for estimating a pike -- length in inches cubed, divided by 3,500 -- if the fish was 60 inches long, it would have weighted approximately 61 pounds." That may sound a bit optimistic until you learn that John Carrol's line was new 60-pound test!

So Sacandaga, a 29 mile long reservoir with 125 miles of shoreline, may hold the largest North American pike. It's ideal habitat with flooded marshes, extensive shallows and a huge population of big suckers and other trash fish are ideally sized to feed monster pike.

Echoing Carrol, writer and guide Ron Kolodziej notes, "Sacandaga's shallow waters and many snags protect pike because few fishermen fish with the right baits at the right time. When I guide I use a lot of downrigger methods during the heat of summer. Those new to the area can find it tough fishing because levels vary so much. If you go with a guide, or know the lake, you can expect good northerns. In fact, 15-pound fish are nothing unusual."

The Terenzetti brothers, Gino and Americo, would testify to that. They spend two weeks watching two lines each after the first Saturday in May when the pike season opens on Sacandaga Lake. Fifteen times one or both Terenzetti's has ranked in the top five in the annual beer company New York State fishing contest. One year, Americo landed a 49-inch long 36-pound fish. He didn't win. Brother Gino beat him with a 39-pound, 4-ounce, 51-inch trophy. This was the biggest pike caught in Sacandagua since Dubuc's 1940 fish. Of the 11 New York pike that ran over 30 pounds in the contest's history, nine came from Sacandaga. That's definitely one spot to try to break the North American record.

In the Western Hemisphere the most productive areas for large pike are the southern portions of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the northern portions of adjacent states across the Canadian border. One of these states, Vermont, offers the American version of an aquatic Vietnam fire fight for ten days every spring.

Vermont, an otherwise sensible state, allows fishermen to slog or canoe through the flooded shallows around Lake Champlain. Spawning pike are easily seen because their dorsal fins stick out of the water. Vermont "shootermen?" -- Can't be fishermen -- shoot them with handguns or shotguns loaded with slugs! This is supposedly a test of marksmanship and good judgment because a pike's dorsal is near the tail, and you need to pop a round into the water near the head so the concussion stuns or kills the pike. Then it's, one hopes, humanely dispatched and either pickled or smoked to dissolve the many small bones that otherwise threaten guns.

Pike really deserve better than this.