After five years, it was time to get back out on the ice
The sun was bright, the kind of bright that even makes you squint with sunglasses on. The wind was brisk, but for the most part, it was not cold as I looked west into the harsh sun and back to the south into the wind.
I rejoined the conversation for about a word or two before looking back west into the sun.
“Flag up,” I announced as I rose to walk across the ice to the tip up. I saw the line stop spooling out as I approached. I wound out a foot or two of line to pull the Beaver Dam out of the water and slowly started pulling the line in.
Whatever took that northern minnow had a long run after doing so. I briefly felt just a slight weight on the line, and it let off in the split second I needed to set a hook.
I pulled up a well scaled and chewed northern minnow, dead from the trauma of his capture. I changed minnows, then checked my second tip-up and went back to the jig pole I was jigging in vain.
I know, I know, you faithful readers are wondering if I need to have my temperature taken or a neuro-psych exam to see if I’m OK for going ice fishing.
There was a time when we could squeeze in a trip to warm sunny climes every year, and I could get out on blue water to cure the itch.
But nowadays the schedule of the Missus and mine don’t mix. We can’t get away when it’s cold, and it’s been over 12 maybe 13 years since I’ve been south in the winter.
About five years ago, with a severe case of cabin fever setting in, I got coerced by a buddy to go ice fishing with him on a day that didn’t even rise above zero.
We caught fish is his pop-up shack, which was comfortable with bibs and coats and the heater running full bore. It was better than sitting at home watching the wind blow.
A month or three later he stopped by with a free popup ice shanty that needed a simple repair to the tarp top, which I made and then forgot about. But I slowly started to acquire more ice fishing gear.
I only needed an ice auger and, lo and behold, my wife’s uncle listed one for sale this past winter, just about the time I’m about to buy one of those fancy augers that attach to the new cordless drill I got for Christmas. I didn’t know he ice fished. It turns out he did two years earlier and drilled all of six holes before he decided he would rather watch the grandkids compete in swimming meets. So, just over five years from the last time someone pulled me out on the ice to face my childhood nemesis, I went willingly.
The auger started with one pull. I realized I like drilling holes in the ice; it’s kind of satisfying. It sure beats shoveling an ice skating rink.
On that Saturday, a gentleman from Rib Lake fishing with a group close to us came over to chat. He came down by his son to fish the Miller Dam for two days.
“I pulled 40 fish through the ice yesterday and kept 15 nice crappie,” he told us. “Today I’ve had one nibble in the same spot.”
Miller was mostly ice covered and slippery so we elected to fish Otter on Sunday. It had more snow coverage for easy walking, but that’s gone now. And we didn’t do much better. Neither did anyone else by us or anyone we talked to. That’s lateseason ice fishing — it’s not catching.
I didn’t catch many fish this year. On the days we did get out, no one else was catching fish either. “Should have been here yesterday,” it’s the story of my life.
I don’t have a fancy Vexilar unit, but my buddy Clyde does and he only caught two more fish than I did so his small bluegills have an amortized cost of $150 per fish more than mine.
I did get some amazing naps in on the ice. I got some exercise, fresh air, and just enjoyed being outside when the snow was too deep to run bird dogs.
Between three of us fishing and one spectating on the last day of the gamefish season, we caught three small bluegills and an almost toothy monster.
But I’m also looking forward to next season and earlier ice.
CHUCK K OLAR LOCAL OUTDOORSMAN