Bangor Daily News Outdoors editor Pete Warner displays his first-ever northern pike, an 18-incher taken at Pushaw Lake. Credit: Courtesy of William Warner

HUDSON, Maine — Curiosity finally got the best of me. After seeing the photos of huge northern pike caught at Pushaw Lake, I finally gave it a try.

To be honest, I’m skeptical of the hype. For years, I’ve heard the stories about the big lake trout caught near our family camp at Sebago Lake, yet I’ve never put one more than 5 pounds in the boat.

That’s part of the reason I tempered my expectations for the excursion to Pushaw. Catching really big fish often requires local knowledge, specific skills, the right tackle and the proper bait. We had a few of those.

My son William and I were kind of winging it. We were fortunate to gather some good intel from Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Nolan Raymond and a recent acquaintance and successful pike fisherman, Rob Jenkins. Goodness knows we were going to need all the help we could get.

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It was a nice day, weather-wise. We arrived mid-morning at Whitmore Landing, on the north end of Pushaw, and were greeted to abundant sunshine and only a light breeze.

But after hauling the Jet Sled and gear several hundred yards to our intended location — which we believed was in the general vicinity of where our sources had suggested — I was a tad overheated. I took off my jacket as we got to work digging holes and rigging our tip-ups.

There were a handful of ice fishing shacks visible down the lake, but there wasn’t much angler activity, as far as we could tell. We did later receive a visit from a guy on a snowmobile who had caught a handful of black crappie and fileted them.

Our only other relatively close contact was with a man who drove his truck onto the ice and deployed a line of traps a short distance away. We didn’t have the chance to speak with him.

Our bait of choice was a selection of medium to large suckers, which had not survived being in the bucket overnight, and a nice assortment of medium and large red-fin shiners.

Bangor Daily News Outdoors editor Pete Warner (right) prepares to pul a northern pike through the ice as BDN Outdoors contributor Nolan Raymond looks on during a recent visit to Pushaw Lake in Hudson. Credit: Courtesy of William Warner

We roamed around, dug the holes, gauged the depth and placed our traps. Then, we waited.

Nothing happened until Nolan stopped by for a brief visit. Our first flag produced nothing, as the bait remained intact.

Moments later, we were back on the move across the snow-covered ice for another one. This time, the shiner had been snatched from the hook.

Once William had attached another and replaced the trap, it was only a short wait before it was triggered again. This time, the spool was turning slowly.

I was given the honors and carefully lifted out the tip-up, grabbed the line and set the hook. There was some resistance, but it clearly wasn’t a big fish.

I lifted it up through the hole and onto the ice and quickly misidentified it as a pickerel — in all fairness, they do bear a resemblance to a pike, especially when they’re smaller.

“Actually, I think that’s a pike,” Nolan offered.

And with that, I had caught my first northern pike.

I was delighted, since fishing for pike was the whole point of the outing, but I can’t deny being a little disappointed that it wasn’t one of the behemoths I had been hearing about and seeing.

It measured a little more than 18 inches and probably weighed a pound and change, but the cheapo spring scale never budged even past a half-pound.

At least we didn’t get skunked.

Unfortunately, that was the extent of our action for the day. If we had some sort of motorized transport at our disposal, we probably would have bopped around to a couple of different spots.

I honestly never considered taking the car on the ice, although it certainly weighs less than a full-size pickup. And we had 16 inches of good ice.

We took along some lunch consisting of convenience store sandwiches and chips, which provided some fuel to get all of our tasks accomplished.

Nolan kindly offered to let us use his fancy shack, which was located several hundred yards away, but we had already done a fair amount of trudging across the ice, which had a few inches of snow on top. Admittedly, it would be a great option on a much colder day.

Our fishing neighbor with the truck plucked a couple of fish out of the same hole, and actually had a third flag on the same set. His efforts produced what may have been the highlight of the day, the appearance of a handful of bald eagles.

The birds flew high overhead and circled to get the fish the angler had left on the ice in their sights. They then alternately landed, peered around, approached the fish, then took off again.

The gull, less unsettled by the anglers nearby, got in the first round of pecks at the fish while the eagles mostly kept their distance.

My kingdom for a good camera! Instead, I settled for whatever I could capture with my cellphone, which was pretty unspectacular.

With the clouds having moved in and the breeze freshening, we began to gather our equipment. We did play hopscotch with a few of the traps, moving them from one location back toward our destination, which allowed us to keep some lines in the water while we picked up.

Finally, we made the march back toward the landing and the car, armed with a slightly better idea about what the pike fishing process entails, but still hungry for the chance to latch on to one of the big ones.

Hopefully, when we return the bite will be on in earnest.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...