It was December 7th Pearl Harbor Day, in 1997 when Dad said, "I think I'm done spearing.
We release all the big Northerns in the summer, it doesn't make a lot of sense to go spear them in the winter. Besides, my hands keep getting cold".
It was the last day of our three day stay at Heath's Resort on the Whitefish Chain. Dad, his friends and brothers had been coming up to Heath's for years, but now in his late 70's it was just him and I. No one else left.
I'm sure the main reason was his circulation, but he was right about the fish too. We would always keep darn near anything caught in the summer, but selective harvest was taking hold which means that we would only keep pike if we needed camp meat (that meant we were having a hard time finding a walleye!)
Heath's Resort had a Hutchinson (hometown) connection. It's where Les Kouba (also from Hutchinson) painted his famous Darkhouse series. The owner Dave Heath, explained how Les painted my favorite painting of the series, the one called "Darkhouse Spearing". They put a darkhouse up on saw horses, then placed a mounted pike in the hole. Leaned the spear against the wall and that's how it was painted. In looking at the painting and then sitting in one of Heath's rentals one could see it was an exact image of the inside of the house, right down to the whiskey bottle filled with kerosene for starting fires in the heater.
We were seeing plenty of fish, many too deep to spear. Dad would always complain the houses were in too deep of water. The only way they would be set up right is if he would have placed them himself...I think.
We had a couple in the five pound range and a couple more running in the area of three pounds. Personally I just loved watching a nose just magically appear in the hole. I'm staring down the hole and blink, when my eyes would open there was that nose! I guess maybe I thought they would warn me or something.
It was about 11:30 am. I missed a couple deep fish and one fish that I have no excuse for missing. All were in the three pound range. For the people that say spearing is easy, well maybe it's just me. I figured I would go over and see how the old man was doing.
He was a little disappointed. A couple fish came through too deep and too small to throw at. He said will give it 'till 12:30 and then it's going to be time to head home. I thought he should go over to the house on the other side of me. I told him I would heat it up, but he said it's only an hour. He's staying put. I walked back to my house.
I just settled in and I heard foot steps in the snow. Figured it was the CO 'cause looking outside I couldn't see anyone. As the steps became closer, there was a knock on the house door. When I opened the door, there was Dad but he was around the corner of the house...out of breath. To be honest, I thought he was having a heart attack.
Then what I was about to witness was just like out of a story book. He throws down the largest Northern Pike I've ever seen!
His last fish speared, on the last day spearing and in the last hour...he brought in a 22 pound pike!
His lifetime personal best!
On the way home I asked if he was going to have it mounted. "Never thought of that" he said. "I'll have to check into it".
A couple days later I called to see if he was going to have it mounted. "'ell NO! They wanted $250. to do that! I sold it to him for $20. and bought the guys breakfast with the money". Classic Dad.
After checking with the FW I called the taxidermist out in Hutchinson. Yeah...it was pretty neat. The calls went like this... Hello, did you buy a 22 pound northern for 20 bucks a couple days ago? I was lucky, I found the right taxidermist after only two calls.
We had the fish mounted just in time for my Dad's birthday the following April. When he walked into his room and saw the pike hanging on the wall he didn't know what to say. I did. Dad, you owe me $20.!
The following Christmas we bought him a canvas copy of Darkhouse Spearing and it hung in his room right next to his pike.
Now the painting hangs in my office above my computer and the fish will be going into the living room.
Every year on Dec 7th since '98, I would get a phone call from Dad. I knew what the first words to be said were going to be.
"Hey! You know what day it is today?"
Sure do miss that phone call.