Famed for its spectacular trout fishing, Montana’s Bighorn River recently gave Kansas City, Missouri, fly angler Nathan Diesel a big, toothy surprise – a 38-inch, 16-pound northern pike.
The catch is so surprising because northern pike aren’t common to that stretch of the river, especially ones that big. The men were fishing in the 30 miles below Yellowtail Dam where the Bighorn River flows cool and clear, making it a productive and popular trout fishery known around the world.
Diesel, 36, had only caught two trout on Jan. 23 when his luck changed. They had launched in DuFresne’s drift boat below the Afterbay that morning. They stopped at what’s known as Crow Beach.
Using a 6-weight Winston fly rod, Diesel was casting a 5-inch-long articulated fly that he’d tied up for a shot at the river’s brown trout. With only about 3 feet of fly line dangling from the end of the rod during one retrieve, he stopped stripping and twitched the rod tip a few times to give the big black fly a little action.
A fish inhaled the fly, turned and swam away, peeling off line until reaching the backing.
“I’ve caught three browns over 20 pounds in my life,” Diesel said, noting that’s what he thought he had at first.
Unable to fit more than the pike’s head in the trout net, the two anglers boosted the fish onto the bank and marveled at its size.
Northern pike have rows of sharp teeth. Most anglers targeting the fish use heavy leaders, or even steel leaders, to prevent the fish from cutting the line and breaking off.
“It took the fly so deep in its throat that we believe the leader stayed in the corner of its mouth away from the teeth,” DuFresne said.
The fish is so big that one-quarter of its meat fed four people, he said.
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