BARKHAMSTED — Landing a near 30-pound Northern Pike will get you noticed; it might even get you an invited into the “old boys club”.
That’s what happened when Barkhamsted’s Leslie Slater hauled in a 29-pound Northern Pike recently while fishing with her family in Colebrook’s West Branch Reservoir. Not only did she catch what is a record-tieing Northern Pike for Connecticut waters, she had to haul it into her kayak, an act that gave her a few pretty nasty cuts on her fingers when the sharp-toothed fish resisted coming aboard.
“I’ve gotten invited to a boys fishing trip,” said the 40-year-old Slater with a chuckle. “A lot of older gentlemen have told me they have been fishing their entire lives and never landed a fish anywhere like that.”
But Slater is no neophyte to the sport. She learned to fish at a young age from her grandfather and father, and is an avid angler who fishes both salt and fresh waters. Her 11-year-old son, Mason, learned to fly fish at the age of four and a half, and a daughter, Faith, also casts a line in the water.
Slater and her husband, Stan, were fishing a deep hole (she estimates it to be about 80-feet deep) when suddenly something struck her Rooster Tail lure. “My husband had landed a pretty big trout and I just wanted to catch something that would beat him. I was jigging up and down in the hole and I actually at first thought I snagged on the bottom. But I knew I had something big when the pole bent when I was reeling it in. I knew I had a fish but thought that maybe I also snagged a log or branch along with it.” But when the pike finally broke water as it tried to elude capture, Slater knew she had indeed latched onto something grand. She said it took about 15 minutes to haul the 46-inch-long fish in after it made several deep dives and then came up to the surface.
“I didn’t have a net so I put my hands under its gill to bring it on board,” she explained. “I got cut by its teeth and I thought I was going to have to get stitches. I finally got the pike down in the front of the kayak and was able to keep my feet on its back to keep it still. It was pretty spent by that time.”
Slater, the owner/operator of Laugh Time Childcare, didn’t intend to keep the fish, as her family practices catch and release with anything it doesn’t eat. However, her attempts to revive and release the pike failed. At that point, hoping to make something good of the situation she decided to see if it might be a state record. She took it home and put it in the refrigerator, hoping to get the fish officially weighed.
Slater said, “We didn’t have power during the bad storm that hit us but were running our refrigerator with a generator. We kept the fish in there for a few days and then had to put it in the freezer.” A challenge was attempting to get the lunker weighed with a certified scale during a major power outage and COVID-19 restrictions. A deli owner was willing to weigh the fish but the scale proved to be too small for the massive fish, although Slater said the pike drew “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the owner and patrons of the store.
DEEP Fisheries Division biologist Edward Machowski, who has spent the past two decades managing Northern Pike in Connecticut, heard of Slater’s catch and was willing to assist. He called the Slaters after learning of the catch and their dilemma in finding a certified scale. Ryan Craig, the owner of the Berkshire Country Store in Norfolk, agreed to weigh the pike using a certified scale in his deli. Slater plans to have the fish mounted for display.
While Slater’s great catch struck a blow for fisherwomen, she is not the only Litchfield County female making waves on the water.
Andrea Nivolo of Kent, who grew up in New Milford, has built a strong reputation as being highly knowledgeable about fishing. A cover photo on Connecticut Anglers Guide in 2014 sort of launched her into the consciousness of the fishing industry. “It opened some doors for me,” she said. She also appeared on the cover of the New England edition The Fisherman Magazine, and appeared in the Connecticut Anglers Guide again. Her social media handle (@theblondeangler) has about 25,000 followers. She has earned respect in a male-dominated sport. All of this attracted fishing supply and equipment companies, such as Abu Garcia, Berkley and others, whom she represents at trade shows.
Said Nivolo, a young mother, “My mom was an avid fisherman and at one time held the Rhode Island record of having caught the biggest blue shark. I believe people follow me not because I am a woman but because they know I’m dedicated and know my stuff. I take a lot of time trying out new equipment so I can give educated advice.”
“The Fish and Wildlife Division of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection holds women only fishing classes to get more women engaged in the sport, and when they see Andrea leading the class they feel empowered,” said her husband, Jessie.
Holly Jones, formerly of Warren who recently moved to Utah, posts regularly about her fishing exploits on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, and has over 1,300 followers on Instagram.
“Orvis has an initiative they call 50-50,” said Jones. “It’s a movement established to get more women into fly fishing and fishing in general. Fishing, as well as hunting, is still very much dominated by males. Even the clothing companies that sell for women are mostly downsized male apparel in pink. We have different bodies and need our own outdoors apparel to feel comfortable.”
Jones believes women should be treated as equals in the outdoors. “Being a female angler, sometimes people overstep how they treat me. I was on a trip with a guide and I was being treated like a little girl when I landed a fish. I wanted that one-on-one moment with what I caught and I was being helped with the fish. The mentality that I somehow need help because I’m a woman spills over sometimes in the sport.”
Here’s a bit of irony to the whole Leslie Slater/Northern Pike story; the fish caught 40 years ago, that her catch tied the state record for, was recorded on the day she was born.
Maybe it was destiny that led her to fish that deep hole in the West Branch Reservoir and strike a blow for female anglers.