When Townsend angler Jake Updike felt the weight on the end of his line, he initially thought it was a big walleye. Then the fish took a run.
“I knew it was good sized but told everyone I must’ve snagged a carp,” he said. “Then it came up close to the boat, and yeah, there are no words.”
What was on the end of his line was, in all likelihood, the largest northern pike ever caught by rod and reel in Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Updike and some friends were trolling for walleye on Canyon Ferry over Memorial Day weekend and having some good luck. They were about done fishing for the day when they ran into Ben Walker on the lake and tied up to talk.
They continued along when Updike noticed thick weeds on the fish finder that could easily snag the crankbaits. As he made adjustments, he looked over to see one of the planer boards used for trolling “just going.”
When they got a glimpse of a truly exceptional northern pike, a rarity in these waters, the fight was on.
Walker and Mike and Joel Harvey quickly went to work steering the boat and clearing poles while Updike continued to play the fish for 15-20 minutes.
Updike brought the pike up to the boat and Mike Harvey successfully corralled it in the net.
“And the aluminum net just folds in half,” Updike said. “The fish then starts jumping around and it blew a hole right through the net and takes off again.”
With no other options, Updike managed to shove his fishing pole through the hole in the net and took up the fight again. For a second time the pike came alongside the boat, and into the net, only to have the backup buckle like the first. Finally they grabbed the net by the ring and wrangled the fish into the boat.
“No steel leader and it bent every hook on that crank except for one,” Updike said. “It’s just a miracle we didn’t lose it. It was definitely a team effort.”
They knew the fish was big, but did not really realize how big. A 41-inch estimate did not seem quite right, and as the tape stretched to 47 inches, the anglers started to comprehend that “big” might be an understatement.
They stopped in at Silos KOA to get a weight. After several failed attempts, someone noticed that the scale maxes out at 30 pounds.
Updike kept the pike wet in a cooler overnight when it officially weighed in at 34 pounds. That puts it near the state record 37.5 pounder caught in Tongue River Reservoir in 1972.
News of the recent catch spread like wildfire on Facebook. KOA first posted some photos and Montana’s angling community started sharing.
“It’s been going crazy,” Updike said. “I can’t believe how far it’s spread already.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist Eric Roberts noted that while northern pike are at low abundance in Canyon Ferry, fish up to 25 pounds have occasionally been caught and reported. Old newspaper articles detail some of these catches as far back as the 1970s, he said.
“But I sure don’t recall anything this big,” he said.
In 2014 during a spring walleye survey, FWP netted an egg-filled 44.5-inch, 33.8-pound northern along with a couple of other large specimens.
While biologists are not certain how the toothy predators got into Canyon Ferry, a standing theory says that decades ago, a flooding Gallatin River flushed pike from a nearby stocked pond downstream. FWP consistently records pike near Toston Dam that have flushed into Canyon Ferry.
While a few large adults are not of serious concern, Roberts says that juveniles, indicating a breeding population, have been recorded more frequently in recent years. That does have FWP somewhat concerned because of the predaciousness of the fish. There is no bag limit on pike in the reservoir for that reason, he said.
Canyon Ferry, with its frequent fluctuation in water levels and big flushes of runoff, is not generally good pike habitat, likely keeping populations low, he said.