There’s something deeply elemental about the way a big pike smashes a topwater lure. The violence is especially jarring on a dead-calm evening in a windless bay.
On Montana’s Swan Lake, in the honeyed light of a June sunset, pike were absolutely hammering my shad-pattern Poe’s Jackpot, driven to a predatory frenzy by the spastic splash and helpless twitch of the cedar plug. Fishing alone on my 16-foot boat, I missed two or three strikes before setting the hook on a 4-pounder that had made several head-shaking runs until I managed to bring it to hand. Because I wasn’t using a steel leader, I was careful to remove the lure with pliers. The pike finned away, whipped and brooding.
I checked my braided line for nicks and frays, concluded that it was still fit for service, and made a long cast to a rocky point. It’s risky, deploying a pike lure without a tooth-proof leader, but I was willing to trade the metallic tether for more action.
But I was nervous, because this was no ordinary lure. This lipless, bug-eyed Jackpot (the actual lure is pictured below) was my go-to plug for big-fish water. I had caught my largest brown trout on it–a sag-bellied Missouri River behemoth–and a great Utah largemouth. The tooth marks and scratches on its finish showed its frequent appeal to pike. As author James Hall says in his piece, some lures have souls. They’re the baits that catch fish when nothing else can. My Poe was just that sort of bait.
I waited until the ripples radiated away from the lure, and then worked it back toward my boat. Most pike smack top-waters, coming out of the water to cripple them. The one that ate my lure simply sucked it under, the way a vacuum cleaner inhales a dust bunny.
I played that big northern for maybe 30 seconds as it made for deep water. Then my line simply went slack, sliced by the pike’s sharp teeth. I was upset at losing such a great fish, but I was devastated at losing my favorite lure.
As I flew to my tackle box for another topwater, something out in the bay caught my eye. It was brown with a touch of red. It was my lure, lineless and fishless, bobbing on the surface, discarded by my temporary trophy.
I paddled like mad to that untethered plug, afraid that another pike would take it forever. Instead, I should have been looking up. As I neared the lure, an osprey swooped down and grabbed it. I can still hear the click of its talons in the still evening air as it seized the plug and carried it up into the twilight.
I watched that bird fly off, astonished and irate, thinking of all the fish that lure had caught, and wondering how I might replace it, when suddenly the osprey made a sharp swoop upward, fluttered its wings, and dropped my Jackpot over the bay.
I had the motor started by the time the lure hit the water. I dipped it up with my landing net and headed for shore. I was done fishing for the day. And after an epic evening like that one on Swan Lake, my favorite lure was done fishing forever.
Poe’s Jackpot: The story of a quintessential American lure
Milton Poe carved his first plugs from California cedar in the 1960s. Yakima Bait Company bought Poe out in the 1990s.
The Jackpot is designed to suggest a number of forage types: a wounded minnow, a twitchy mouse, a frog. Hand-painted finishes run the gamut from the gray-on-white “Spook” to the clown-colored “Hangover” to the “Vegas Crawdad,” an orange-green-blue number with an affinity for gambling.
Originally designed for bass, pike, and muskies, the 8-inch Poe has become a go-to bait for peacock bass, tuna, striped bass, and cobia anglers.