Toledoan Tom Schlachter caught a 42-inch silver pike, a rare variation of the northern pike, on a recent fishing trip to Canada.
This is only supposed to happen in exaggerated testimonials, or after about a thousand hours of filming on those Animal Planet fishing shows: That one-in-a-million catch.
But for Tom Schlachter, it happened with the first fish, on the first stop, on the first day of a fishing trip to the Canadian north country.
Schlachter, a Toledo native and real estate developer who has made more than two dozen annual forays to remote lakes in Canada, recently flew from Detroit to Minneapolis, then on to Saskatoon in the western province of Saskatchewan.
After an overnight stop, there was a predawn flight a couple of hours north to Stony Rapids, population 360, and then an hour leg on a float plane to reach the outpost camp on Selwyn Lake, which straddles the Saskatchewan border with the Northwest Territories.
Selwyn Lake is 45 miles long, 18 miles wide, and peppered with islands and sliced with inlets. The deep water is the haven of lake trout up to 50 pounds, while the bays and shallows are the haunts of trophy-class northern pike.
Schlachter, one of a group of about a dozen Toledo area anglers who fish the Canadian wilderness each summer, was making his fourth or fifth trip to Selwyn Lake, which sits on the 60th parallel.
As soon as he arrived at the camp and unloaded his gear, it was time to fish. Just a half-dozen casts into his Canadian adventure, Schlachter tied into a nice fish, which is not uncommon on this remote fishery.
"Initially, I was in awe of the size, since it was the first fish of the day and it was clear that it was a big one," Schlachter said. "A group of Toledo guys who had been at the lake the week before had caught a couple of 44-inch northern pike, so I thought I had something that might approach that size."
Schlachter had cast into a patch of vegetation in about four or five feet of water. He was using a custom-made pink minnow about six inches long, rigged weedless, with a split tail that provides lots of action.
"I'd caught a lot of pike on that same type of lure, and since they were just moving off the spawn, I hoped we'd find the pike active and ready to bite," he said.
After a relatively short battle, the fish was in the net.
"Obviously, I recognized it was a really nice fish, but something about it was different. Then our guide went bozo when he saw it. I thought it looked a little mottled, but he went crazy, so I knew it had to be very unusual."
What Schlachter had was a 42-inch silver pike, a rare variation of the northern pike.
In the silver phase, this fish usually has a silvery-blue body, absent the spots of the common northern pike. The silver also has a narrower body profile, a shorter mouth, and larger eyes.
"The two guides working with our group had each been on the lake about 10 years and had seen thousands of pike, but neither of them had seen a silver pike come out of that lake," Schlachter said. "Before long, the whole lodge was buzzing about it."
After the guides did some research, they informed Schlachter that a silver pike would occur once in every 27,000 eggs, and that the odds of a pike hatchling reaching even six inches in length is only about 5 percent. They estimated his fish would be about 30 years old.
"By those calculations, I guess the chance of a silver growing to 42 inches in length has to be one in several million," Schlachter said.
Once the fish was netted, they measured it, snapped a few pictures, and then the guide then spent about a half hour resuscitating the fish and released it. It swam off, but later surfaced. Big pike often fight to the point of exhaustion and do not survive the battle.
Since they are so rare, few records exist for silver northern pike. About a year ago, an angler on Snowbank Lake near Ely, Minn., caught a silver pike that went 18 pounds, 14.56 ounces. That would have been a state record, but Minnesota no longer recognizes the silver pike as a separate species.
According to Rod Pierce, a fisheries biologist for the state of Minnesota with more than two decades of experience working with northern pike, the silver pike are currently considered a "color variation" but not a mutation. "There are very few lakes in Minnesota where we see any silver pike," Pierce said.
He added that the recognized world record for a released silver pike is 43 inches, putting Schlachter's fish in royal company.
"That's certainly a very large silver pike," Pierce said.
At the outpost camp where Schlachter stayed in Saskatchewan, a big board displays photos and information on a number of the top lake trout, northern pike, and grayling caught each season, and after witnessing Schlachter's fish, they've added a category for silver pike.
"Mine's the only one up there, since it's the only one they've seen," Schlachter said. "From what I've learned, they truly are very rare. I guess you can't go out and fish for one."
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.