March 22, 2023
Earlier this week, North America celebrated the arrival of spring, signifying that another long winter is fading away.
But Brad Lila's memories of winter will likely linger for a lifetime thanks to his catch-and-release of a 46.25-inch long northern pike on Lake Mille Lacs, a fish that tied the existing catch-and-release record in the Gopher State.
When the big northern struck, it didn’t take long for the Hudson, Wisconsin resident to realize that this was no ordinary frozen water catch.
“I set the hook as the line was quickly peeling out,” said Lila in a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources news release. “Immediately, I knew it was a very large fish because it peeled out drag and there was no stopping it. After about 10 minutes of fighting the fish, I knew that it might take more than me to land it.”
In fact, it took an ice village, as Lila yelled and gained the attention of two nearby anglers. According to the Minnesota DNR, Lila then tried to get the big pike to turn its head and come up through the hole in frozen Mille Lacs, but the fish was simply too big and the slush under the ice made the task even more complicated despite the assistance of the other two anglers.
“Every time she would get near, a few inches of slush would come up and we couldn’t see down the hole,” said Lila. “An additional challenge was that my braided line would groove the bottom of the ice and when my knot connecting the fluorocarbon leader would meet the ice bottom, it would get stuck. I’d have to put my rod down into the hole to free up my line and then my line guides would freeze.”
Obviously, this was no simple catch through the ice. But after a half-hour of give-and-take trying, Lila was finally able to get the fish landed and take some quick measurements.
And after that, since the big pike was most likely a female laden with eggs prior to the spawn, he got some photos and then made sure that the record-sized pike was back in the water.
“It was so satisfying seeing her swim away,” he said in the DNR news release. “I am so very appreciative of the state of Minnesota for supporting a catch and release [record fish] program. It’s great to know that she’s out there passing along those incredible genes and that someone else may have a chance of landing her someday.”
The International Game Fish Association’s “IGFA World Record Game Fishes” book from 2022 shows that it isn’t that far away from the biggest pike ever caught-and-released.
To make that comparison, it first must be noted once again that the Lila northern pike checked in with a length of 46.25-inches, a number that converts to 117.475-centimeters by formula. (Editor’s Note: When looking at Dr. Rob Neumann's In-Fisherman story last year entitled "Pike Length To Weight Conversion Chart", Lila's fish had a likely weight of 25.29-pounds.)
That inches-to-centimeters conversion allows for a comparison to the current IGFA catch-and-release world record for a northern pike, a 124.0-centimeter fish that was caught and released at Lake Maggiore, Italy by angler Michelangelo Schenone on Sept. 23, 2021.
If Minnesota is a North American hotspot for big pike catches in the Lower 48, then Italy is another hotspot for globe-trotting anglers willing to make a trek across the Atlantic.
In fact, according to an IGFA news release, on August 5, 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown year, Paolo Pacchiarini caught an incredible 19.50-kilogram (43-pound) northern pike that established a new IGFA Men’s 10-kg (20 lb) Tippet Class World Record.
According to the IGFA report, Paolo was fly fishing in Centro Cadore Lake, Italy when he landed and released the record pike after a 10-minute fight. What’s more, the IGFA news release notes that particular catch a couple of years ago on Pacchiarini’s fly rod actually beat out the existing world record mark from 1996 by more than 12-pounds in that tippet class world record battle.
Clearly, these are some good days to be chasing big northern pike, whether that’s during a summertime trip to famed waters in Alaska or Canada, in wintertime months in states like Minnesota, or even on a bucket-list type fishing trip to a lake over in Europe. And as our Outdoor Sportsman Group sister publication Fly Fisherman magazine points out, don’t forget big pike on the fly rod, where ginormous catches can happen each summer for a fly angler tossing the right fly in the right spot.
Back in the Lower 48 as the 2022-23 winter season fades into spring, and thanks to the CPR (meaning caught, photographed, and released) nature of Lila’s catch——the big pike of a few weeks ago in late January is swimming in Mille Lacs once again (Editor’s Note: Minnesota’s weight record for a northern pike is 45-pounds, 12-ounces, a behemoth fish pulled from Basswood Lake on May 16, 1929.)
For now, Lila’s recent wintertime catch has fulfilled the Minnesota DNR’s requirements for the state’s own catch-and-release record category, and has been certified as a new state record for the species.
Or more accurately, the recent catch is in a dead-heat tie for the state C-and-R record, since the DNR reports that Lila’s fish tied the current benchmark. According to the Twin City’s Star-Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis/St. Paul, that other record catch-and-release northern pike was caught by angler Brecken Kobylecky of Geneva, Ill. when he was fishing in Minnesota’s Basswood Lake on June 19, 2021
Minnesota officials note that with “…the increased popularity of catch and release fishing and higher minimum lengths, many anglers are reluctant to harvest record-weight fish. To address this concern, DNR has created a record program for catch-and-release length for four species: muskellunge, northern pike, lake sturgeon and flathead catfish.”
With the catch-and-release length record being cross-promoted with the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame's Master Angler Program—which the state’s DNR says recognizes 60 fish species—the hope is that anglers will consider these pathways for fishing fame if they catch a large muskie, lake sturgeon, flathead catfish, or northern pike.
To enter this record category, the Minnesota DNR notes that anglers will need to submit an application in PDF file to the agency at the following link.
In other Lake Mille Lacs news, anglers will again have the opportunity to harvest walleyes there as slot limits have been set for 2023. Anglers will be allowed to harvest walleye in the 21- to 23-inch range, and those greater than 28 inches throughout the 2023 open-water season. This year’s walleye opener is Saturday, May 13.