Herald and Journal, Jan. 10, 2000

Another 'non-fishing' experience


You might be surprised to hear that one of the first things I did in the year 2000 was go ice fishing. I know I was.

I hadn't been planning an ice fishing expedition to usher in the new year. Tom and I had decided to drive up to his brother Dan's place some time over the long weekend Dec. 31 through Jan. 3.

The plan was to exchange Christmas gifts, and the guys could get in some ice fishing.

We were celebrating a quiet New Year's Eve at Sara and Keith's house. It seemed strange that Dan would be calling Tom there. Then I found out why.

Would we be interested in renting a fish house for a day of ice fishing on Lake Winnibigoshish? The next thing I knew, someone was telling me I would be spending Sunday staring into a fish hole.

Here I was, enjoying a quiet New Year's Eve with family. Suddenly, I had to ponder what on earth to take along when we headed out at noon the next day.

Forget about getting up early to pack. After all, I had to drink a champagne toast at midnight to the arrival of the year 2000. I imagined myself frantically searching for long underwear at the last minute while Tom waited impatiently.

I hate to be cold. As usual, I overpacked. I had long underwear for Tom and I, plus mittens, scarves, and hats. The guys told me that the fish house would be heated, but we still had to make the trip a mile and a half across the ice to get there.

Carol and I had our doubts as to whether we really wanted to accompany our men, but at 6 a.m. the next morning, we were summoned from our beds. The guys had the gear packed and it was time to go.

We arrived at Judd's Resort at about 8 a.m. We loaded the fishing gear and all our necessities into the sled behind the vehicle that was to haul us out to our fish house. Then, we climbed aboard.

Now, the four of us are not exactly dainty people. It was quite a load in that box on the back of the four- or six-wheeler, whatever you want to call it. It had tracks on each side for easier traveling across the ice. I wondered what the driver was thinking.

Carol and I were advised that it was warmer to face backwards, so that the wind would be at our backs. Dan climbed in, and then, Tom threw himself in last. I was convinced that I would never walk straight again, if I ever did manage to extricate myself from the weight that had been pitched on top of me.

We plunged down the hill to the lake and out across the ice, stopping briefly at a ridge off shore where the ice had been pushed up and apart. The vehicle edged slowly across the planks that had been placed there. At least there was no open water this morning.

The whole lake looked like an irregular patchwork quilt. The driver explained that the lake had frozen and then, the weather got warm again. The ice melted and then refroze in these huge chunks when the temperature plunged back down.

There were groups of small ridges where the wind had blown the ice and water around as it froze. All in all, it was very choppy ice, with cracks and ridges everywhere.

Our driver followed the ice road out toward the group of fish houses owned by the resort. I was cheered by the sight of a little house with a crescent moon on each side perched there on the ice. It seemed strangely out of place between the first and second fish houses.

I hoped that we would be dropped off at one of the nearby shacks. No such luck. We continued on to the third one.

I had imagined myself trekking the mile and a half across the ice back to the resort. The little shanty was better than nothing, even if I would have to toddle across the ice from our fish house to get there. The lack of snow cover and the ridged ice made it an interesting trip. But, hey, wasn't I the one who always said I enjoyed walking for exercise?

After we unloaded the equipment, we each staked out a fishing spot in a corner of the fish house. We would have the run of the place until 8 p.m.

The gas furnace was blazing away. In fact, it was way too hot. We couldn't turn it down any lower, so we spent the day periodically propping the fish house door open so that we wouldn't be overcome by the heat. I was still glad I had my longies on.

Dan had brought all the fishing gear, so he set about getting everyone lined up to catch fish. Before long, he had a bite. He became quite excited when he realized that he had about a 5-pound northern on his 2-pound test line.

He was trying to maneuver the fish up to the hole, and reach for his gaff at the same time. All of a sudden we heard a snap. The fish was gone.

We settled in for the day. At first, we got quite a few bites. Some of the perch that were pulled from the lake were even big enough to keep.

Suddenly, I got a really good bite on my line. As I started to reel the fish up, the line began to jump through the reel, and the fish came off. Until then, the reel had been working fine. Dan quietly gave me another pole to try.

This rig had a much smaller reel on it. Dan must have thought that this one was idiot-proof. That thought couldn't have lasted long. I had sat there without any bites at all for quite some time. I decided I should reel up the line and check my bait.

When the hook was about three feet from the rod, I noticed that the line wasn't coming in any more. Somehow the line had been trapped along the side of the reel. It was pinched in really tightly. I thought if I sat there and quietly worked with the line, I could fix it without anyone noticing. No reason to let the men know I had done it again.

I managed to pull some line loose from the reel, but it came off in a loop. It was still pinched tightly into the side of the reel. As I worked, Dan suddenly became aware that I had fouled up another of his fishing rigs.

"Is your line tangled?" he asked.

Just then, I managed to pull the line loose. Actually, it broke. I had fixed it all right. Dan had spent quite a bit of time already, stringing poles and tying on hooks. I silently handed him the disabled rod.

I guess you could say that I'm not much of a fisherperson. I sat there for a long time with no bites. Whenever I did pull the line up to check, the minnow or the wax worm would be gone. I think they got tired of waiting for a fish to show up and just jumped off the hook out of boredom.

Tom caught a few perch, but they were too small. Dan and Carol caught perch pretty consistently, but all but six were too small and had to be thrown back. Carol even managed to pull in a whitefish later in the day. That joined the immature perch that were set free in the water.

As we sat there fishing and talking, we entertained each other by reading the graffiti on the fish house walls near our fishing spots.

My favorite was, "Annette wasted time here, '94".

Another one I could really relate to was, "I caught fish, Jack caught fish, Rob didn't." Yeah, Dan caught fish, Carol caught fish, Tom caught fish, Sue didn't. I could definitely relate to Annette and Rob's fishing experiences.

Really though, I didn't feel like I had wasted my time out on the lake. It was a new adventure, something different to start out the new year.

The guy from Judd's resort came back out at 4 p.m. to see how we were doing. We could have stuck it out until 8 p.m., but we decided to pack up and head for shore. All in all, it was a pretty good day.

My only regret? I wish I would have remembered my camera so I could have memorialized that little shanty with the crescent moons standing so proudly out on Lake Winnibigoshish.

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