In Search of Big Jake

by Dan Egan

Wanted: A $1 million fish. Goes by the name of Big Jake. He might be swimming in Lake Coeur d'Alene. If so, he would be a Northern Pike of blueish-green color with a long, sloping forehead, light-colored horizontal spots on his body and a perch-eatin' grin on his face. He's armed with sharp teeth and is considered very dangerous to small fish in shallow weed beds. He's of unknown age and size and could weigh anywhere between three and 30 pounds. Big Jake's most prominent feature will be a tag clipped to his fin displaying a winning message and a toll free number to call if caught. The lucky angler who catches the fish before June 4 will reel in $1 million. He can be taken dead or alive, but if you want to throw him back, just make sure you get the tag before you do so.

As of this week, Big Jake was still at large and was last seen sometime before May 4 by the Busch Beer company. Busch is sponsoring the national fishing contest in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, who tagged and released 40 fish in 40 waterways across the country, including a northern pike in Lake Coeur d'Alene. Lucky Peak Lake in Southern Idaho is the only other Idaho waterway with a tagged fish. No lakes in Washington were tagged for the contest. Nobody knows which lake he's in. Along with Big Jake, the other 39 fish will pay $1,000 each if caught before June 4.

"Big Jake has not been snagged yet," says Jeff Smith, a guide at Fins and Feathers Tackle Shop in Coeur d'Alene. "Odds are, we got the $1,000 fish, but who knows? It could be the million."

Unlike last year's contest, which included a mackinaw in Lake Pend Oreille that's still on the lam, Smith thinks there's a decent chance that this prized pike will be apprehended. "I think this fish actually has a reasonable chance of being caught. Even though Coeur d'Alene Lake is 24 miles long, you can break down the water pretty well." Smith says fish of Big Jake's ilk have predictable spring behaviors and advises anglers to be on the lookout especially in weedy bays where they like to hang out.

"Being a pike, they're primarily a weed-based fish. Most of the northern pike this time of year will be in under 10 feet of water, so it's probably gonna be in one of the major bays."

Smith says there've been a lot of characters coming around, asking a lot of questions about Big Jake. So much so, he's had trouble keeping a stock of promotional pamphlets. "They've about cleaned us out of those pamphlets twice," says Smith. "It's fun, though. It just gives you another reason to be out there. If you're pike fishing and you catch one, you're gonna see if that baby's got a tag for sure. Every time you get a bite, you're gonna be thinking about it."

Pike feed on small perch, so Smith suggests casting lures and plugs for them. "One of the most popular is daredevil spoon. They use them all over the country for pike." He's also had some luck with a Rappalla floating plug called the Husky Jerk (kind of redundant if you ask a Coug fan). If you want to use bait, Smith says smelt is the best bet for pike. So far, there's been no sign of Big Jake, and time is running out to catch him.

So, let's review. Pike, sharp teeth, blueish-green, sloping forehead, smelt good bait, Husky Jerks, Coeur d'Alene Lake, shallow water, $1 million, catch him. You know your mission, anglers. Now go to work.