I told my friend Steve Slota when we got to Spruce Run Reservoir this evening that we would get them tonight (pike included). My feeling left me no doubt. It didn't take long before I hooked an 18-inch channel catfish about a foot from the bank in the corner between the Van Syckles jetty and protrusion of marshy land. My son, Matt, and his friend, Tom, threw ball in the lot while we watched their bobbers, live-lined minnows, and cast Rapalas. To see a bobber begin to move is every bit as exciting as catching the lift of a tip-up flag ice fishing. This time I only noticed that one of the bobbers had vanished; urgently, I tallied the rods, then hollered for Tom.
"Should I set the hook?" Tom said. Plenty of time had elapsed.
"Tighten up," I said. He did. "Go ahead." He pulled back and the drag began to rasp. No doubt, this fish weighed.
After two powerful runs, Tom had it near the bank, but all I could see was heavy mass, and for a second I mistook it for a hybrid striper. The fish was on its third run, fighting hard for a pike. He got it near us again, and this time we could see a beautiful length of pike, which took off for a fourth hard run.
"Let it go, let it go," I kept telling Tom, nervously. "It needs to be played out."
This time the fish seemed done, and I grabbed it quickly behind the gills, and lifted. The pike measured 30 inches, Tom's first. A dream more real than waking on Saturday morning, I suppose, and an achievement of his own for fighting that fish, which I will always remember. We released this pike, which genuinely came with surprising size after two years of his expectation.
I caught a largemouth of a pound or so on a live-lined shiner, took another hit from something good- size on an extra-large shiner I fished with a deliberate, slow retrieve. Whatever it was managed to get the shiner before I even tried to set the hook. It left me with an image of great, razor-toothed jaws having simply clamped down hard. I missed several hits from what I think were crappies, again very close to the corner bank. As I played around with these fish, I kept turning to watch the bobbers, most of them fished on the side of the jetty facing the open reservoir. The water on this side had taken a fairly heavy stain. Spruce Run Creek flowed clear, and filled the bay with fairly clear water (we saw no action in it). Suddenly I saw the big, red and white bobber move subtly. I hollered for my son as I ran to the rod. The bobber stayed in place. I wondered for a moment if I had imagined the motion.
"Should I set the hook?"
"No, wait." And we waited awhile. Then the bobber steadily moved off. "Ok," I said.
Matt played this fish on a heavier rod, but it still gave a good show; and proved to be his largest pike yet at 27 inches. This fish, too, we released. I caught a couple of crappies in the corner afterwards close to 14 inches, and kept one of them. Crappies are especially large in Spruce Run; I've caught them over two pounds here. They are also excellent table fare, although the fillets contain big rib bones unless the cage is cut out. In recent years pike are thought to be fairly short here, with fish over 15 pounds rare. As yet, I haven't broken the 10-pound mark, but four-pounders prove to be about the common average, a good match for light tackle. Simply no doubt exists that Tom's fish this evening rocked that ultra-light with eight-pound test. It's the same rod he'll use for trout as soon as the streams clear up.
Besides, this is New Jersey, not Manitoba. These fish beat pickerel any day. And Tom's dad knows this, even though he hasn't caught one yet.