Something happens in the fall, when the first bite of winter air enters the atmosphere. The change in colors and the shortening of days trips a switch and nature’s fangs comes out. Underwater, the rush to pack on calories before the world freezes over has begun.
As a fly fisherman in Minnesota, the beginning of fall also brings the end of stream trout season. Appropriately, just as Halloween is around the corner, my focus shifts to toothier quarry. My 3x tippets get swapped for steel leaders and bushy streamers take the place of minute dry flies. Instead of watching patiently for a fish to sip the fly underwater, I brace for 20 inches of pure muscle to try and mutilate whatever I’ve offered. It’s a different kind of thrill, and a bit of an acquired taste, like boxing or watching defensive lineman work. Northerns seems more intent on killing the fly than eating it; even once they’ve been landed, they’re more than happy to take a piece out of my hand in revenge. The first time I looked inside a northern’s mouth, and saw the rows and rows of teeth covering the upper jaw, I had a glimpse of how terrifying it must be to be a minnow. A house of horrors indeed.
In the fall, I begin to understand again, why some fishermen devote all of their time to chasing giant predators. It’s a giant game of trick-or-treat, although the fish always gets the trick, and we always get the treat. And just like trick-or-treating, the big fish of the genus Esox provide enough of a scare to make the leg work worth it.