Lake Chetek Surrenders a Big Late-Season Northern Pike
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
Someday I hope to pit Nach Peerenboom of De Pere against Tyler Florczak of Chetek to determine who has the best hunting and fishing eyesight in Wisconsin.
While hunting ducks with Peerenboom on the Fox River near Green Bay in November 2018, I marveled how he spotted flocks far out on the horizon. In fact, I thought he couldn’t be looking where he was pointing. Even with binoculars I struggled to pick out the distant specks. But Peerenboom so consistently spotted ducks before anyone else in our four-man group that I conceded he possessed a rare game eye.
I thought of Peerenboom on Feb. 26 while ice-fishing for northern pike on Lake Chetek in Barron County with Florczak and his father, Gary. The Florczaks routinely set their tip-ups far, far apart on the ice, and mark each with an orange post. After all, they don’t want to confuse their tip-ups with those belonging to unseen anglers over the horizon.
I’m joking, of course, but to my eyes—even when aided by prescription glasses—the Florczaks’ orange ID posts looked like wooden matchsticks a lightyear away. I felt better about my ordinary eyesight when noticing Gary Florczak’s binoculars. He keeps them handy to monitor the tip-ups and verify when their flags snap to attention, signaling a strike. But then I noticed Gary seldom picked them up, let alone looked through them.
I soon learned why. Binoculars are redundant when Tyler is near. The first time Tyler said, “Flag,” and pointed, I figured he, too, couldn’t align his eyes with his pointer finger. But then he walked hurriedly in the direction he pointed, and I fell in beside him. Surely he wouldn’t take off on a marathon-like walk if he hadn’t seen a tip-up flag flapping in that direction.
Meanwhile, Gary climbed into his truck and bounced off in the opposite direction to check on another waving flag. As Tyler and I strutted along, I asked if he’s had his vision tested lately. He said no, but figured he had 20/20 eyesight.
“It’s better than that,” I replied. “My corrected vision is 20/20 and I couldn’t see that flag. I bet you’re like Chuck Yeager, the World War II fighter pilot. Yeager had 20/10 vision, which is phenomenal. He could see details at 20 feet that people with good, normal vision see at 10. Yeager’s squadron relied on him to spot German fighters before they got spotted themselves.”
Tyler smiled modestly and accepted the compliment. Minutes later, after finding no fish beneath our tip-up, Tyler checked the health of our bait—a 5-inch golden shiner—and reset the line while watching his father in the distance. After studying him several seconds, Tyler quickly finished resetting the tip-up and started walking.
“I think he’s playing a big one,” Tyler said. “He’s not hauling line. He’s been in that same position quite a while.”
We hurried back to Tyler’s parked truck, climbed in, and drove the several-hundred yards to Gary, who still hadn’t landed the fish. I hung back with my camera as Tyler knelt beside the hole to help land whatever big fish Gary guided his way.
The father/son team talked strategy excitedly as the fish tired and drew closer to the hole. Its broad, flat back identified it as a pike. Tyler inched his hand down the hole, but suddenly pulled it back after brushing the pike’s snout. The fish dieseled away like a submarine, zipping yards of braided black line back down the hole.
“Whoa!” Gary shouted as the line raced past his boots. “He’s a big one!”
After halting its run, Gary patiently pulled the pike near once more. He predicted it would make at least one more run before letting him guide it again into the hole. Sure enough, the fish torpedoed away after appearing briefly below, again yanking yards of black line back down the hole.
Gary chuckled appreciatively and repeated the process. Again he worked the pike back toward the hole, expertly laying the retrieved line atop the ice so it wouldn’t tangle or snag his boots should the pike take another run. Tyler hovered over the hole, his right hand poised to strike when the pike’s big snout rose vertically up the hole.
An instant later Tyler’s hand flashed into the water. He grabbed the pike beneath its lower jaw, hooked his fingers lightly under the gill-plate, and hoisted it clear of the hole.
We assumed by its sagging belly that the pike was a pregnant female making its spawning pilgrimage toward a creek to the northeast. Gary laid the pike atop the ice as Tyler pressed a tape measure to its tail, and stretched the tape to the pike’s snout.
“Forty inches!” he declared as his father gripped the big fish and hoisted it admiringly. The fish’s emerald-green back and yellow-white horizontal spots glistened in the midday sun, making me wonder if any fish could look prettier.
The beauty pageant soon ended, and Gary prepared to give the pike back to Lake Chetek. The big fish hesitated a few seconds with its head down the hole, and then pounded its powerful tailfin and vanished with a splash.
Man, that was fun. And we didn’t need 20/10 vision to realize it.
Tyler Florczak, left, hoists a 40-inch northern pike from Lake Chetek for his happy father, Gary, in late February. — Patrick Durkin photos
Tyler Florczak, right, uses a tape measure to verify this northern pike was 40 inches.
Patrick Durkin and Gary Florczak pose for a quick photo with Florczak’s big pike.
Gary Florczak returns his northern pike to Lake Chetek.