My frozen fish story

February 2, 2009

by Matt Kane

I felt a little more Minnesotan early last week. I fulfilled my duty as a product of the Land of 10,000 Lakes by venturing out on one of those lakes — frozen, of course — and dropping a fishing lure through a coffee can-sized hole.

I am, by no means a true outdoorsman, but on the morning of Monday, Jan. 26, I felt like one.

I didn’t grow up hunting or fishing, so, other than knowing the general concept, I have no idea what I’m doing with a fishing pole and a bucket of minnows. Luckily my fishing guide, Nick, who I’ve come to know from mornings of sipping coffee in Loretto, and his grandson, Matthew, were willing to help.

So, after Matthew set up my line and jig, I plopped my bottom on the steal folding chair inside Nick’s humble fish house, and sent my minnow down the hole.

Before too long, BAM!, I had a bite. OK, we were fishing for crappies, so the strike wasn’t exactly a BAM. More like a hmm, hmm, hmm, with the slip bobber slowly descending into the bone-chilling waters of Lake Sarah.

I let that crappie take that bobber about a foot below the surface of the water, and WHACK, I jerked the rod I was holding and set the hook deep in that fish’s gum (if it had gums).

Five minutes into my first fishing outing of the season and I had my first catch. Not bad.

The fishing wasn’t great the rest of the morning — we bucketed about 15 fish between the three of us — but the bites came often enough to keep each of us interested. And, between those bites, the conversation was simple, but good.

To me, a big part of fishing with other people is the camaraderie.

Before my latest fishing excursion, I probably hadn’t been ice fishing for over 10 years. My buddies and I used to head out to the fish house when we were in high school, because it was a place we could get away from our parents. A place we could strike up a competitive card game of Buck Euchre. A place we could BS about everything teenage boys BS about. And a place we could pretend we were adults by experimenting with some tobacco products.

Thank god Nick didn’t make me swallow a live minnow to get into his fish house last week — an initiation ritual performed to enter my high school-friend’s fish house — and thank God, there were no Red Man pouches passed around (I’m still gagging). None of that stuff, just good old fishing.

I had been wanting to get into ice fishing since I returned to Minnesota almost four years ago, and last week’s trip reminded me why. It also reminded me why thousands of people walk on the frozen water every winter in Minnesota; because it is a calming, peaceful, and mentally- (and hopefully hunger) pleasing activity. You can do it alone, or you can do it with a couple friends, whatever your mood is that day. You can fish for the trophy northerns and walleyes, or you can fish the good eating crappies and sunfish.

Maybe the great joy I get from ice fishing is at a high because I don’t fish very often, but I’m not so sure. While Nick, Matthew, and I were crammed inside the fish house last week, Nick mentioned that he just loves fishing, even after six decades of doing it. The fact that he spends a couple hours inside his fish house twice-a-day, whether the fish are biting or not, proves that.

Thanks to Nick, I am now hooked on ice fishing, as well. That’s no fish story.

By the way, the fish we caught, they were THIS big.