There’s no question this will be an abbreviated treatise when compared to Frank Capra’s legendary documentary Why We Fight . The Academy Award winning masterpiece convinced legions of young men to endanger their livelihoods for the good of the country during WWII. For some strange reason I think of this classic piece of propaganda when the ice begins to firm up on the lakes in the north country. Local media outlets are abuzz with stories of crazed anglers risking their lives in pursuit of fish. Beyond the poor choices of some individuals and the sensationalized reporting of said events, I’ve found the reactions of the uninitiated equally entertaining. A fair portion of the populace openly questions the wisdom and sanity of driving and fishing on ice covered lakes in wintertime.
Ice fishing for me is an adopted pursuit. Minnesotans like to make many claims. Whether it be the “land of 10,000 lakes”, “the state of hockey” or the Coen Brothers. Ice fishing culture is as Minnesotan as Babe the Blue Ox. Risking my life in pursuit of fish is like a tube of Oscar Mayer Braunschweiger, it’s just filler. I regularly lace-up the skates for a pickup game, strap on the snowboard or partake in an extra round of shoveling as a means to rationalize my choice of living in an pseudo-arctic climate. Many individuals opt to hibernate in winter but I attempt to revel in it. It’s a behavior that was frozen into my brain at a young age. I spent my teen years freezing my ass off on the antiquated chairlifts of my beloved Sundown Mountain. Skiing and snowboarding from 9am to 10pm was standard fare. Eventually you get accustomed to wicked self-induced windchills of an Iowa winter. Mixing my cold weather tolerance with my love of fishing would prove to be a match made in heaven. My introduction to the sport came in the late nineties, and it was trial under fire to say the least. Mrs. Adrift was an Editorial Assistant for North American Fisherman Magazine. The staff ice fishing trip was an annual pilgrimage to premier northern Minnesota lakes. For more than a decade I joined the armada as we’d run and gun with the finest guides in the area to prime locations. I have to admit that the best of the bunch was Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. If you don’t think there’s any skill in ice fishing I’d suggest you book a trip with Bro. I consider myself a fairly competent ice fisherman and he has regularly outfished me 10 to 1 in side-by-side holes. It’s an amazing display of skill and knowledge. Enough rambling about the past, let’s get to the present, shall we?
The late fall “filler” was my CHP in Chaska exploits. I’m not sure why I was so enthralled with the experience, since suburban stocker angling rarely is something to get lathered over? Nevertheless I decided back in October that this would be a good destination for an ice fishing blog post. I mean besides watching American Idol, tying flies and daydreaming about the spring thaw, what else do you have to do that’s more important than reading this BS? To be honest with you I’m like a dog in heat to hit some SE Minnesota streams, and Hay Creek did little to quench my thirst. I’ve just been too busy to escape. The events that unfolded earlier this month forced me to miss the first two weeks of the designated lakes trout season. This would prove to be a blessing and a curse. I had no intention of fighting the crowds that amass for opening weekend, but the standard Adrift™ approach of fishing a weekday shortly there after was in full effect.
I arrived at “legal time” on Friday morning with extremely low expectations. This was the one week a year that we all despise. Every January we have a week where the mercury struggles to rise above zero. As luck would have it this corresponded with my first real opportunity to fish in a few weeks. With the crazy cold temps and my delayed arrival, I surmised that this little gem had been pounded to within an inch of it’s life and there’d be nothing left to pursue. I setup shop on the ice with my small otter sled containing a few rods, my aging Vexilar FL-18 and my trusty Jiffy. I own a portable ice house, but rarely use it. I’m way too ADHD to sit still and stare at one hole for very long. The preferred approach is to drill way too many holes resembling a thick piece of swiss cheese and bounce around accordingly. I began my pursuit and the early returns were as expected. Nobody was home in deeper water. As the sun began to lazily rise above the treetops I moved shallower and finally hit paydirt. Ice fishing for trout can be a visual experience. Often the fish cruise right under the ice, and you can sight fish them as they flyby and smash your offering. This fish however was suspended half way down and I picked him up on my electronics. I felt the telltale inhalation of my jig. I solidly set the hook and an angler’s worst fear came to fruition. The rod snapped like a twig. I immediately moved to plan B attempting to subdue the beast by hand lining into my clutches. No dice. I threw the Jason Mitchell sight fishing rod to the ice in disgust. This was the newest rod my the collection, and clearly it was the shittiest, since I hadn’t caught any fish on it. Hey Jason, thanks for nothing! Fortunately ice rods, unlike fly rods have the shelf life of a disposable diaper, and the price point to match. My anger was shortlived as I grabbed another rod and got back to business. Within minutes I iced my first Bow and all was right with the world.
One of the finer points of ice fishing is the visualization and imagination portion of the equation. Minus the use of your depthfinder and lake maps, much of what you’re doing is blind. Don’t get me wrong I own an underwater camera, but use it more as a novelty than a fishing aid. This outing would prove to be a different affair. The next hour of fishing was killer. It was one of those windows of frenzied activity that we live for. It’s particularly rewarding in ice fishing given the atmospheric conditions that you’re subjected to. You can endure many fishless hours in the winter looking for low light bliss. CHP was doling out the Rainbows in spades. The numbers yet again were mind boggling. A school of what appeared to be 25-100 fish would move through your hole and you’d get 10 quick biters, I had a real shot at only one or two as the stubby-tailed hatchery fish moved at an insanely high rate of speed. The morning was shaping up to be pretty damn good, and fortunately for me only two or three more anglers showed up to join the affair.
The weather was strange indeed. Wild fluctuations between blue skies and clouds were the norm. A band of driving snow showers blew through for 15 minutes coating my limit of troutcicles in a fine white powder. Even though I quickly bonked a limit I continued to fish. In the back of my mind I thought of the monster Brookie, brooder Bow and the big Browns that I saw last fall. If only I could C.P.R. one of those big boys I told myself, this would truly be a special outing. But it wasn’t meant to be. I stood hammering Bow after Bow looking stupidly like an Everest explorer, when in reality the only thing I was conquering was my inner demons.
As I made my way off the ice I was struck with the amount of garbage that littered the ice. There was your usual assortment of ice fishing refuse. It’s as if I was guest starring in an episode of Fat Albert. Dinky sunfish also littered the ice in an effort to rid the clay pit of the unwanted guest. Garbage or no garbage, this was one of those mornings that some would just shake their head at. Morning commuters gingerly sipping their coffee in their cozy warm cars. I could feel their judgment even in the arctic air. They must be wondering about the guy standing out on the ice staring down the hole. Either you’re with us or against us. Why would he do that in this weather? What is it all about anyway?
I cannot answer that. I can only shed a glimmer of light on why we fight.