A broken collarbone requiring surgery won’t mean the end of Chad Pipkens’ seventh Elite Series season, but he’s done with hockey this year.
The 35-year-old from Lansing, Mich., suffered a freak fall Sunday during a men’s hockey league game. He underwent surgery Wednesday to set the bone, including placement of a plate with six screws. He’ll work the Classic Expo with a brace but said he plans to be ready to fish the next Elite at Lake Hartwell in early April, albeit gingerly.
“I’m doing good in the big picture. It is what it is,” he said. “Talking to the doctors, they seem quite a bit more optimistic this time – if everything goes well.”
Three years ago, Pipkens suffered a wrist injury while proposing to his wife that threatened his 2016 Elite season. (Musta been some proposal.) Being in shape helped his healing then, as did a $2,000 PhysioStim device he bought that promotes bone growth. It helped Pipkens heal quicker than doctors thought, and he was able to begin the 2016 season fishing left-handed with a spinning rod.
“I’m learning. I broke the correct side this time,” he said. “Maybe next time I won’t break any side.”
While skating down on a 2-0 break, Pipkens said he slowed and must have hit a divot in the ice and caught a skate. He went down and as he slid toward the boards, he mistakenly put out his left arm to catch himself. Oh snap!
“We scored, and I just went to turn,” he said. “I put my left hand up and just hit the wrong angle. That bone is really strong. It’s like taking a long stick and putting pressure till it breaks.
“My buddies thought I was joking. Thought I was kidding because we scored – I was screaming. It wasn’t painful. I was just so pissed. I knew it as soon as it happened. I could feel my collar bone tingle. I ran my hand along it and it was there, there and just dropped off.”
Collar bones normally take six to eight weeks to heal, but Pipkens said this injury shouldn’t be as bad as his broken wrist. Doctors at Michigan State University’s sports medicine department are optimistic he’ll be able fish the April 4-7 Elite on Lake Hartwell, where he hopes to get his season back on track.
“In four to six weeks, it’s going to be pretty well healed,” he said. “It’s not going to be as strong, but they said I have a good chance to do what I need to do.”
Once there, Pipkens hopes to spring back from a subpar start. He said after two great practices, he just didn’t bring in the fish in finishing 54th at Lake Lanier and 51st at the St. Johns.
“I’ve been excited, but I’ve been frustrated,” he said. “I had two really good practices, like really, really good – found too much in Florida, and had a great practice in Lanier. I just haven’t landed fish. I’ve had the bites to have a top 10, top 20. You lose two 4-pounders on an open hook swimbait that pulls off. You lose a 4 on a Ned rig straight under the boat, it’s frustrating, but it’s all a part of what we do.
“You go in streaks where you just don’t land fish sometimes. You want to make sure you’re not doing anything wrong. I’d like to have a year and half where I land all the fish I’m supposed to and couple weird ones that maybe you’re not supposed to get. It cycles. You see that with everyone. It’s not that you’re not fishing great, you just don’t get any breaks.”
Pipkens is curious who will get the breaks in next week’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. He thinks the locals will have an edge on the Tennessee River and Loudoun and Tellico lakes.
“It might be Ott DeFoe, Wesley Strader or some of those guys who have some history with what goes down when that water goes up and down,” he said. “Chris Zaldain has been fishing really well. Guys like him and Cliff Pirch are always in the hunt.”
Whoever, it’s sure to fire him up to try to heal faster and get back on the trail. A broken clavicle won’t stop Chad Pipkens from fishing, but he might just be rethinking ice hockey.
“Hockey is over,” he said. “Am I done for life? I’m definitely done for the year.”