GRAYLING, Mich. - In 1978, the World War I Drum and Bugle Corps from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., - a dozen veterans all about 80 years old-returned to France for the 60th anniversary of the end of The War to End All Wars, as it was so ironically believed when the guns fell silent at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
One of the stops the veterans made was at Belleau Wood, where during the war the invading Germans were stopped by the Americans-who fought so fiercely that the Germans called them “Teufel hunden,” or Dogs from Hell.
The Marines mistranslated that as “Devil Dogs,” a nickname they proudly wear to this day, and other American soldiers called them daredevils.
That sparked an idea in the brain of Lou Eppinger, who made fishing lures in Detroit. He renamed his red-and-white Osprey lure the dardevle in 1918, and his spoon still is America’s most popular lure for northern pike.
All that history came flooding back recently as I landed a 28-inch northern on Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark, one of my favorite pike spots in southern Michigan.
It’s wasn’t because I landed it on a dardevle. It was because I lost my last dardevle to another pike in the Upper Peninsula the previous week, and it took 3 hours to figure out that these pike would hit a small, white crankbait.
Once that became clear, it was pretty easy to paddle my kayak slowly through the cuts between islands and off points with deeper water on the outside edges and pick off pike that usually struck as the lure came off the shallows while running about 4 feet down.
Northern pike are a great summer fish. They strike hard and fight fiercely, although usually not very long in the warmer waters of southern Michigan. But I’d much rather fish for pike than walleyes if for no other reason than the ferocious strike.
While I hate to kill one, I have to admit that pike are excellent table fare, if the angler knows how to fillet them to remove the mass of Y bones.
Pike grow faster in the southern United States, but the biggest North American fish all come from northern Canada or Alaska. That might seem a contradiction, but southern pike rarely live longer than six years while their Yankee kinfolk commonly live 20-25, and there are records of some pike exceeding 30.
The world-record pike, recognized by the International Game Fish Association at 55 pounds, 1 ounce, was caught in 1986 at the Lake of Grefeern in Germany, which at latitude 53.5 degrees lies 750 miles north of Detroit.
At 42 degrees, Detroit is at latitude where local lakes should produce a lot of pike over 30 inches, but they don’t. That’s because our legal size limit of 24 inches, combined with massive fishing pressure, results in most pike being invited home to dinner by the age of 10 or so.
On the day I fished Kent Lake, I spent a couple of hours paddling and trolling along the edges of the weeds with a big bucktail spinner that had a gold blade and white skirt. It also took four fish from 20 to 24 inches.
Knowing that smaller pike like to move into the weeds as the water warms-mostly to keep from being cannibalized by their bigger brothers and sisters and parents-I tied a half-ounce weedless jig on a baitcasting rod, rigged it with a 6-inch plastic worm and began tossing to openings in the middle of weed beds.
Sure enough, I rarely went 10 casts without a strike, but none of those fish exceeded 18 inches.
Now I’m looking forward to a rip to Hessel in the eastern Upper Peninsula, where perch fishing has improved immensely after the U.S. government gave permission to control the cormorants that devastated small fish in that area.
And with the return of the perch has come the return of the primary predator on adult perch, the northern pike. I can’t wait to see if a couple of 8-inch muskellunge lures will do the trick on big pike as well.