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Defending the northern

A couple of northern pike out of Little Chippewa Lake that were caught on Sunday were kept for a meal after the opening weekend of fishing. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

For many anglers, this past weekend couldn’t get here soon enough as they backed their boat into the water for the first time this year to chase Minnesota’s favorite game fish.

They tipped a jig with a minnow and slowly made their way over a rock bed or a sand bar, anticipating the feel of that first walleye of the season.

Our love for the walleye runs deep as Minnesotans. In fact, anglers invest thousands of dollars every year to stock fingerlings in Douglas County lakes to make sure they will be there the following spring.

There is something special about spending a morning on the water with a limit of walleyes to show for it, but what about the other game fish that anglers could go after this past weekend?

The northern pike often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to our love affair with angling. Their nicknames are plentiful and seldom flattering: hammer handles, snakes, slimers. They carry a certain stigma about them that some people can’t seem to get past.

In defense of the northern, they can be a lot of fun to catch and equally as tasty at a fish fry when cleaned and prepared properly. They are also plentiful in Douglas County lakes and ready to be harvested.

“There’s no shortage of northern pike,” Glenwood Area Fisheries Supervisor Dean Beck said. “In fact, we have many, probably most, I would even go so far to say, of our smaller bass, panfish-type lakes, even up to medium-sized lakes are holding way too many pike. It’s a challenge to the point where I had been pushing to liberalize harvest.

“The reality when we had some northern pike experimental regulations going on on Bergen, Andrew and Rachel, encouraging people to harvest pike, they still weren’t taking them. We have a large resource out there that is not well utilized, and it ought to be.”

So why won’t anglers catch and keep northerns on a more regular basis? Perhaps it’s as simple as the stigma that they carry as a slimy, bony fish.

“People will throw them back, ‘I’m here for a walleye or crappie,’ ” Beck said. “The reality is they’re just as good if not better eating. They’ve got Y-bones that make the filleting not quite as easy, and they do have a lot of slime. People turn around and say you should stock more walleye, and I’ve told people for every walleye you take, take your three northerns. They’re feeding on them and competing for the same food.”

Beck went on and on when asked to list some of the best northern waters in Douglas County. The Alexandria Chain of Lakes, Smith Lake, Maple, Turtle, Andrew, Rachel, Grant, Aaron and Moses are filled with them. Almost any lake in the area has a healthy population, and in many cases an overabundance of northerns.

Want to introduce a kid to fishing? Targeting pike is a good way to start. I remember vividly the trips with my dad as a kid when we pulled shad raps in the early summer and spoon plugs in July and August. It was nothing to catch 30 pike a morning on a good day and their aggressive nature makes it a blast for those looking for some fast and furious action.

“They jerk the rod right out of your hands,” Beck said.

Walleyes can be tougher to entice sometimes, and perhaps that’s part of the reason we love chasing them. But for anglers looking for a lot of action and a good meal, northerns don’t take a back seat to any game fish.

“If you’re looking for a meal,” Beck said, “they’re there, easy to catch and ready.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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