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Below The Surface

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lessons from The Pike

Photo: Courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo Gallery; Robert W. Hines

I could have a smashing video in here of the experience I'm about to type out to you. But I don't because I didn't have my video camera. Lesson learned: ALWAYS have your camera with you. You never know when you are going to stumble on a story for stewardship. I'll do my best to describe it to you, but man, I am kickin' myself for not having the camera.

Yesterday after work I went to look for ducks in St. Albans Bay State Park. As I pulled over on the side of the road, there were two other cars parked there and two men standing along the edge of the wetland. These two men were staring into the water and they had rifles.

As I walked away to do some birding, I was running through all the potential game they could be going after and reconciling that with the current hunting season. Nothing fit. Not duck season (phew!), didn't know if there was a muskrat season, couldn't think what else they could shoot. But, by the time I walked back from my birding adventure, I had an idea of what they were "hunting". I was excited. If they were hunting what I thought they were hunting, this was gonna be good. I had to ask one of them, I had to find out. And I knew if I was right I was going to be sorry I didn't have my video camera.

Coming upon one of the hunters, still standing there gazing down intently at the water's edge, I said, "Excuse me, sorry to bother you. Could I ask what you're hunting?" Now I wish I could type in a Vermonter accent because its a rich, rural, relaxed jumble of sounds. (Arrg, camera!) But, this weathered older man told me he was hunting pike and not having much luck. YES! I was right. Cool! And it's at this point I really wanted my camera because we got into a discussion about shooting pike.

A little background for you: A pike is a fish, apparently they are tough to catch. Pike shooting is something unique to northern Vermont and New York and Lake Champlain. There is a season - middle of March to the middle of May. It is thought that it evolved from the Abenaki using spears to fish for pike in this region. This odd hunting season has been written about in the New York Times.

But the story, oh the story I could have captured on video. He told me he had been hunting pike for more than 20 years. He told me how sweet the meat was and how they were great to eat. He invited me to see the pike in the trunk of his car that his buddy shot earlier that day. Beautiful, beautiful fish.

I had a hard time focusing on the conversation at points because I kept thinking how great this would've been to capture on video. And, then how would I ask permission to do that? Even if I had the camera would I have had the guts to ask, "Would you mind if I captured our conversation on video?" How do you out-of-the-blue say, "This is so cool, I want to be able to share this with others."? What would he have said? Would he have let me record him?

I've been thinking about how the Voices For the Lake project could use a story like the pike hunter. ECHO stands for Ecology, Culture, History, and Opportunity: doesn't this story have a bit of each? Couldn't I find a way to connect fisheries biology and conservation with this story? How could it be used to find agreement and common ground on a practice that is potentially polarizing? How does a guy like the pike hunter feel about the health of the Lake? of the fish?

Storytelling is powerful! Sharing experiences is powerful. This is what Voices For the Lake is all about. A good story can reveal itself at any moment. My lesson learned from the pike hunter is not just to bring my camera next time - but to be bold enough to ask questions, to really listen, and to be open to all stories about how we enjoy Lake Champlain.

~Bridget Butler, Voices For the Lake Manager


John Riutta said...

Now that is a truly interesting look into a little known rural American past-time. It reminds me of Burkhardt Bilger's essay on "noodling for flatheads." Well done!

Voices For the Lake said...

Here's a recent article from The Burlington Free Press on pike:


Voices For the Lake said...

And a request for help with collecting data on pike to inform management of the species: