Until recently, Eric Emerich of Garland had never been ice fishing. That is, unless you count the time years ago when he went to a lake where a friend was fishing—to pick him up—and stayed only a few minutes.
“I’m new to ice fishing,” said Emerich, who along with his wife Krista had hired Jack Sullivan of Maine Fishing Guides to help introduce them to the sport.
But you’ll probably find the Emerichs on the ice more often in the future.
On February 12, Eric Emerich celebrated his ice fishing debut with an incredible experience. He landed a trophy northern pike, weighing 25.9 pounds and measuring 43 inches long and 22 inches in girth, during a field trip to a pond in the Belgrade Lakes region.
“I have been fishing all my life. I’ve always dreamed of something like this,” Emerich said. “These are things I read in Field and Stream when I was in elementary school.”
It was a slow build up to when the monster hit. They had been fishing for hours and had landed several fish and lost a few. As they enjoyed fresh pike cooked on ice by Sullivan, he noticed what looked like a flag on one of his more remote traps.
It had been placed in an area where fishing was generally slow, but had produced large fish in the past. He didn’t react immediately.
Sullivan knew that if it was a flag, and there was a pike swimming with the bait, it would be to Emerich’s advantage to give him time to secure the bait in his mouth.
“You want to give that pike a chance to run with the bait or spin the bait to get a better hook set,” Sullivan said.
Moments later, they hopped on their snowmobiles to go check the trap. The flag was raised and soon the fight began.
The tug-of-war lasted 40 minutes, with Sullivan coaching Emerich on how to handle what he knew, from his demeanor, was a big fish.
Emerich was cautious, as his inexperience with ice fishing probably contributed to losing a few fish earlier in the day.
“I had to go through this learning curve of how to fight a big fish,” Sullivan said.
Emerich didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize bringing a nice one.
“It was heavy, and I felt vulnerable that it could break at any moment, and at the size it was, it certainly could have,” Emerich said.
He allowed the fish to make repeated runs, then tried to regain control by slowly bringing it back to the surface.
“There wasn’t a lot of margin for error in some spots,” Emerich said, as the coil was visible after most of the line was removed.
“Every time he won a line there, he gave it all back,” Sullivan said of the sinker. “It was Eric’s first time fighting a big fish on the ice and he absolutely nailed it.”
About 25 minutes into the battle, the Emerichs and Sullivans first saw the fish swimming past the hole. The view was unforgettable.
“It was like a danga shovel,” Emerich said of the huge pike head.
Emerich, 53, admits the process was tiring and he was sore from kneeling on the ice and was experiencing fatigue in his shoulders and core. Krista Emerich, a yoga instructor, offered tips for breathing relaxation.
At one point, Sullivan offered to write Emerich and give him a chance to rest.
“I said, ‘no, sometimes you get into something too deep to back out; this is one of them,'” Emerich said.
Finally, Emerich prevailed and Sullivan reached out and pulled the sink out of the water.
“I’ve been fishing for pike for 13 years, but this was the biggest one I’ve ever seen come to the surface,” said Sullivan, who has been guiding for six years. “I couldn’t have done a better job.”
“It was a grueling fight. I was ready for it to be over,” Emerich said.
Although he knew it was a huge fish, Emerich was unable to grasp the magnitude of the catch at the time.
“I’m just putting the full context together after the fact,” he admitted, after hearing Sullivan initially suggest it might have state-record potential.
The record northern Maine pike was a 31.2-pounder caught in 1998 by Lance Bolduc of Skowhegan on North Pond in Smithfield.
Emerich said catching the pike was a very different experience from his brook trout and lake trout fishing trips with Sullivan. He has been fascinated with the pike and its “cousin” the muskellunge.
“Something that big and that voracious, it gets the imagination going,” he said, echoing the sentiments of anglers who have targeted pike since they were illegally introduced to central Maine many years ago.
Sullivan confirmed that the thrill of catching a pike through the ice is hard for anglers to match.
“When I see the flag up and I’m fishing for pike, I know there’s a potential for a 20-pound-plus fish on that line every time,” he said.
The Emerichs’ memories of the special day of ice fishing will be long-lasting, but they will also have a tangible, lasting memory. The pike will be mounted by a taxidermist.
“Some old timers said you’ll never see a fish like that again,” Emerich said.
“I can’t really blame him,” Sullivan said. “It will be on the wall, so it will be a memory forever.”
Emerich is grateful to Sullivan for his knowledge and guidance to facilitate a fun and rewarding experience.
“Jack Sullivan of Maine Fishing Guides is a wonderful and capable young man, wise beyond his years … he gives me faith in the younger generation,” Emerich said.