Stalking The Great Snow Pike

by

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

Photography by Mike Spears

This is an electronic reprint of an article that appeared in SOURCES (Mar/Apr. 1991, p. 33-35). This material is copyrighted and all rights retained by the author. This article is made available as a service to the diving community by the author and may be distributed for any non-commercial or Not-For-Profit use.  

All rights reserved.

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Ann Arbor was buried in the greatest snowstorm in recorded history. The frigid air and immense snowfall had reduced the city to a standstill. The snow was so high that even the ivory towered pinnacles of the University of Michigan were hidden under its massive white blanket. The enormity of this grave predicament was demonstrated by the cancellation of the Michigan - Ohio State football game.  Outside my window, it was quiet ... like a scene from "The Shining."  My thoughts were interrupted by the ringing phone. 

At first I was delighted to hear the effervescent voice of Linda, my Hawaiian dive buddy. She talked of strolling on a sandy white beach and of diving with the humpback whales on a day that was a mere 150 F warmer than Ann Arbor's current -78 F wind chill factor. She relayed to me her delight in winning the recent Hawaiian Islands spear fishing contest. Slowly, I realized that I was talking to a very "machette" (fem. of macho) lady. Here was a woman who was not only playing at the male dominated sport of spear fishing, but was beating everyone at their game; her victories were by no small margin. Here was a woman who was surviving by her physical prowess as a huntress, while I, a snowbound wimp academic had never hunted anything other than the freshwater crayfish of Grand Traverse Bay. (Crayfish are tasty, but not exactly a formidable opponent.) As I listened to her exploits, my pride as a man diminished. (It has only recently been scientifically proven that the male ego is, indeed, the most fragile substance in the universe; something women have known for centuries.) In a Don Quixote type manner, my mind began to wander as I contemplated exploits that would impress even my huntress friend. After hanging up the phone, I retreated to the quiet womb of my library.

There, in an obscure text, LEGENDARY FISHES OF THE GREAT LAKES, I read the legend of the elusive Great Snow Pike.  Surely, no greater trophy existed. I decided that I would hunt and capture this most magnificent of creatures.  Unfortunately, I knew nothing about hunting or my intended prey. Learning the hunting part was easy. Some scuba training agencies offer diving specialty training without the absurd necessity of getting into the water.  So, I listened to 30 minutes of lecture on the joys of being an underwater hunter. Then, without ever using a spear gun or having to get my hands dirty capturing and cleaning some underwater critter, I was a certified Underwater Hunter. I then returned to my diving library in an attempt to learn more about my intended quarry. 

The Great Snow Pike (Esox Mythacus) is an exceedingly rare member of the pike family. Like all other pikes, it has a long torpedo-like body.  It is carnivorous. The adult male is generally over 3 feet in length.  It has been hypothesized that in the larger, more northern snowfields the fish may grow to lengths exceeding 10 feet. The fish (photo 1) appears as a large, but exceptionally thin, translucent Northern Pike.  The most unusual feature of this critter is its large red eye. Some authorities consider this to be infrared sensitive.  It is believed that it stalks its prey by this heat-sensing organ. Like a shark, it also has long lateral line vibration sensors, which may also play a role in tracking potential prey. In the continental United States, the fish spends most of its life in hibernation. Then, like the May fly, it emerges for a very short lifespan.  Estimates range from one to seven days, but data are scarce.  The Great Snow Pike lives in the snow and apparently only emerges during a crippling snowstorm. (Reportedly, the snowplow is the Snow Pike's chief predator.) 

Photo 1. Snow Pike In Natural Habitat

The single most difficult aspect of Snow Pike hunting was ignoring my friends and neighbors as I prepared for the hunt. The technique was simple.  First, the hunting site was picked.  I found a large open snowfield at the base of a hill used by the locals for sledding.  (In the snow, a child on a sled appears like a Snow Sea Lion, the Snow Pike's favorite food.) This pelagic type environment allows the Snow Pike freedom to move and hunt.  Once the site was selected, we dug a coffin-sized hole in the snow.  Then, wearing scuba gear, I lay on my back and had my dive buddy cover me with snow.  Note that this is an overhead environment and double tanks, a Benjamin crossover, and redundant air supply was necessary.  Also, the cold environment required adequate thermal protection. I used a dry suit with a marine type b Thinsulate jumpsuit as insulation and a red Jacques Cousteau ski hat. More financially secure divers may want to consider full-face mask with hard-wire communication. I assumed (Photo 2) the preferred hunting position: knees bent with a portion of the fins remaining above the surface of the snow.      

 Photo 2. Preferred “hunting posture”

Once buried, I slowly moved my fins back and forth. Here a bicycle kick was preferred. The low frequency vibration of this technique attracts the pike.  (Much like a thumper attracts the sand worms of the planet Arrakis.) It seemed like an eternity, but as a patient and thermally protected Snow Pike hunter, I soon heard what I thought was the sound of the Snow Pike. However, it would not approach.  (Later, I realized that the sound I had heard was only the sound made my sled runners as they passed near me.) I began to chill.  I looked around me.  The world was cold and all white.  I knew that soon I would be hallucinating as the altered state that comes from hypothermia and sensory deprivation began to control me.  The thought, however, of emerging without my goal gave me strength.  I tried a different type of sound. I began to softly hum into my regulator.  After about eight bars, I realized that I was humming, "What Kind Of Fool Am I?"

At first, I thought it was an auditory hallucination ... a soft swishing sound. Then I began to feel the power behind the sound. My heart rate increased. Ignoring the danger from air embolism, I quit humming and held my breath. My feet began to bicycle feverishly. I knew that the Snow Pike was real and that IT was coming for me! I could not see it, but somehow, I sensed its presence. With excruciating slowness I began to move my hands toward each other. The Snow Pike slowly moved across my face towards my fins. I was impressed by the grace of the beast. I made a grab for it. I somehow managed to get a grip on the tail. The Pike exploded in a powerful burst of speed that dragged me across the field. I held on. Eventually, it tired and I surfaced holding on to my prized trophy ... a 3-foot Great Snow Pike (Photo 3).

 

Photo 3: Author Displays Captured Snow Pike 

Although reported to be good eating. (There are persistent rumors that fish and chips served in Minnesota are in actuality Snow Pike.), I could not bear to eat this once noble animal. So, I sought out a taxidermist. My magnificent trophy is now on proud display. It hangs in a place of honor, just above my Ph.D.

Even though I had captured a lesser member of the legendary Great Snow Pike family, I still felt the immense macho pride of a hunter who has bested one of Mother Nature's most feared predators. With ego ablaze I called Linda to tell her of my exploits. I found that she was not at home in Hawaii, but that she had gone home to Ohio to visit her parents.  

This would be awesome! I would drive to Ohio and show her my conquest. When I got to her parent's home, they were just sitting down for dinner. They were eating a portion of the 10 foot Snow Muskellunge that Linda had just caught! 

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About The Author:

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America

Article History:

This article was written at the request of Mike Williams, then editor of SOURCES. The request was for "serious" technical writers to attempt humor for an "April Fools" issue. Stalking the Great Snow Pike was my contribution to his request.

  Copyright 2001-2004 by Larry "Harris" Taylor

All rights reserved.

Use of these articles for personal or organizational profit is specifically denied.

These articles may be used for not-for-profit diving education