READING, Mich. -- In the Bagrowski household, there are fish and then there are wall-hangers. You can catch a lot of fish and clean them or throw them back, but the real trophies you hang on the wall.
Chad Bagrowski, a senior at Bedford High School, has been fishing Long Lake near here since he was old enough to remember. In the past, he caught a lot of bass, blue gills, and crappies, but nothing that made the grade for hanging on the wall at the family's cottage.
His dad Wayne has a couple of bass in the five-pound range, and a pair of monster blue gills mounted and displayed in a place of prominence on that wall, along with a big walleye. Chad looked at those fish every day at the cottage.
"I just wanted to catch one big enough to put on the wall," he said.
During a recent outing on Long Lake, which is a little more than 200 acres in size and sits between Hillsdale and Coldwater in Hillsdale County, the fishing gods decided it was time to give Chad an opportunity to take his place on that wall of fame.
While fishing for bass in a narrow channel in the lake and casting an imitation frog into patches of lily pads, Bagrowski saw a flash, and in a fraction of an instant later something slammed into his bait.
"I actually saw it attack, and right away it was fighting really hard," he said. "At first I thought it was a bass, but then I knew it had to be a pike or a dogfish."
At the urging of his dad, Chad quickly relaxed the drag on his reel so the big fish didn't break the line. Right away the reel started singing as the pike made one of its characteristic powerful runs.
Once the fish surfaced, they received confirmation that this was one of Long Lake's resident northern pike, a long, slender hunter with a duckbill-shaped mouth and ominous looking rows of needle-like teeth. Pike prefer to ambush their prey in dense cover, vegetation, or downed tree limbs.
"First it went under the boat, and I was afraid I was going to lose it, but after I got it out of there I started to reel it in again, but the fish kept fighting like crazy," Bagrowski said. "The first time we tried to net it, it sent a wall of water at me and broke through the mesh part of the net. Then it started taking out more line."
After some hasty repairs to the landing net, Chad brought the fish back by the boat and his dad put it in the net. It continued to thrash about inside the boat, but there was no doubt at this point where that big pike was going.
This fish was headed for the wall.
"I kind of realized when I hooked it that this was a pretty big fish, but once we got it in the boat, I knew it for sure," Chad said.
He had hooked just one other pike during his countless fishing outings on Long Lake, which supports healthy populations of largemouth bass, blue gills, and crappies.
"I lost that one, but there's not that many pike in the lake, and we don't normally fish for them," he said. "Sometimes when we're fishing for bass I'll see one stroll by, but that's about it."
Bagrowski's trophy measured 39 inches and weighed about 13 1/2 pounds.
"He's really proud of that fish," Darlene Bagrowski said about her son, who will turn 17 later this month. "He loves to fish, and he's been going up to the cottage and fishing in that lake since he was a little kid. There's some nice fish on the wall at the cottage, but those aren't his. Now, he's got the biggest one."
Chad is a pitcher and plays travel baseball with the Ohio Trojans, and he had more time for fishing between the summer and fall seasons. He is considering the University of Toledo, Oakland, and Adrian for college, but is unsure about a major. He said he plans to keep fishing, despite the fact he now owns the top wall-hanger at the family's cottage.
"Long Lake is my favorite place to fish since it's got lots of big blue gills, a few big bass and some good crappies, and you never know when another big pike might hit," he said. "But right now, I'm just excited about the accomplishment and being able to catch such a big fish. I'm just glad to get one I can hang on the wall."
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.