We enjoyed the quiet of the winter ice-scape. The hollow sound of its breeze, the creaks of the frozen lake, the squeak of the snow underfoot. And, of course, the power augers, trucks and snowmobiles.
It’s a combination that is typical Northwoodicana – if I may coin a new term (and please let me know if someone else has already coined it – I’ll steal no one’s fake word).
I had ventured out to my dad’s ice shack, where Uncle Paul was set up and where I was going to try my own luck.
Uncle Paul isn’t really my uncle, but I noticed many on an area lake addressing him as such as they ice fished one day last year. A lone nephew was nearby – the others had apparently picked up the “uncle” and assigned it as sort of honorary title. Much the same way my dad is known as “Uncle Bawb” in northern Iron County, I guess. A few nephews made it so he was known as such by many.
I’ve acquired a few honorary titles myself over the years, but I’ll not go into detail here and risk appearing as though I’m bragging. I will say “uncle” is not among them.
It was a new location we ice fished. The ice had quite rapidly built thickness after several days of arctic air, and Dad and his friend Roger had hauled the shack out. This was to be its first fishing adventure of the year.
The fish were invited, but they showed up fashionably late. So did Dad, though he was not quite as fashionable as the fish.
Paul was fishless when I arrived. He had two tip-ups out, quite some distance from the shack. That kind of jives with something my dad would bring up later. How come the fish are always far away?
The shanty itself was set all the way across the lake from the landing. Roger had selected the spot, Dad said. “Why can’t there be fish near the landing?” Dad wondered.
Dad also pointed out that many an angler, while fishing from shore, will cast out as far as he or she can. Then, they’ll get out in a boat and fish tight to shore. It’s true, often enough. I think that’s just how it works. I do it hunting, myself.
I had a deer blind that was about a half-mile walk in, and then a mile walk after a road was gated. I hunted there for a number of seasons, and did pretty well, but I frequently noticed tracks crossing my trail in a particular spot on the walk out. I often thought I should actually hunt there. I would even have saved about a quarter-mile of walking.
It was a natural place for deer to move from the pines on the high ground to a good-sized area of very thick spruce in a large swamp. The simplest of stuff, really. I did have a prettier view from the spot I usually used, though. And the deer, like the fish, are always more numerous farther away from any access point, even if their tracks aren’t, right?
Paul drilled holes in the shack, so we could jig in relative comfort, though it was in the 20s, so it wasn’t too bad. We would be trying, contrary to the far-away theory, to catch fish real close. The theory held up for quite a while.
Near the shack there were a number of tip-ups, set up by a group of young guys that had a number of trucks and even a motorcycle out there. Many of their set ups were closer to us than to them. Their “farther-away” was our “close.” Interesting stuff to the scientific mind.
They were a nice bunch, these young guys. One of them even offered to drill holes with his power auger when he saw me pull my Swedish hand auger out. But I’m a practiced expert with the archaic device, probably an Olympic-level athlete, really, if such a contest were to be added.
But I knew Paul had his power auger along, so I had left mine behind. I will note that I did punch two holes with the Swedish auger without requiring CPR or an extensive nap in between, and the ice was close to 17 inches thick.
Our near, the other guys’ far, was more productive than our far. At least initially. Sortly after Dad arrived, and as darkness approached, we were watching one of the other guys tend a tripped flag about 20 feet from Dad’s shanty.
The flag resulted in a walleye that was very near the legal size limit of 15 inches.
“You don’t have a tape do you?” the successful angler inquired.
There is a yardstick fastened to the shack door, I told him. He came running, and measured the fish. A tad over 15 inches. The angler returned and began resetting his tip-up.
A moment later, a flag just a short way off went up.
“Hey! That flag there is up,” I said.
“That’s mine too,” he said as he worked to quickly reset the first.
He dashed over to the tip-up that had sprung and hauled another walleye onto the ice. This one was just a bit longer than the first.
“Hey!” I was saying a moment later, as the tip-up he had just reset tripped again.
He was running, and fishing had turned into quite a spectator sport for us. We were hoping to actually participate, though.
Dad had arrived late enough that he wasn’t going to fish at first. He was content to sit in the shack and hoist the occasional beer. He even gave one to his son, who had forgotten his.
I eventually gave Dad one of my jig poles and tipped its treble hook with a crappie minnow. Sitting in the heated confines of the shanty, Dad fished on one end and I fished on the other. Uncle Paul occupied a lawn chair in between, having placed out a third tip-up and forgone jigging.
Darkness took over and only the warmth of the ice shack and the company kept us there. I had a Vexilar in my fishing hole, but was getting no returns other than those from a lively crappie minnow. But, suddenly, Dad got a bite.
No fish resulted, and I asked if, perhaps, the ancient bobber I had supplied him with had filled with water and sunk on its own. It floated when he checked, though.
A moment later, the bobber was down again, and Dad pulled up a crappie. The skunk was off. And the “run” was on.
Moments later, I walked into the shack after being outside for a minute, and noticed a taught line. Soon I was pulling in a crappie. Shortly, Dad caught another, this one measuring 12 inches.
Since the bite was so late, we were letting the fish go. We didn’t realize an actual meal might produce itself. We got more crappies, and I also caught a rock bass.
Uncle Paul, who is, incidentally, a newlywed, pulled up his lines during the evening run. Dad and I carefully nursed a tiny beer supply, caught the occasional crappie and enjoyed the warmth of the shack.
At one point, I headed to clear the ice from the hole in which one of my tip-ups resided. I had a tip-up light attached, but the battery was low. When I approached a few steps closer, I saw the light. The flag was up. A minute later, a 17-inch walleye was on the ice. The fish were close, and our luck had improved. It got better.
Dad talked to my brother Chris, who decided to take a ride out to the shack for a brief visit.
“Tell him to get some beer,” I said, and he did. The tiny supply was augmented. For a little while longer, we sat in the warm shack, unconcerned that the “run” seemed to have been curtailed.
The next day, Dad and Uncle Paul were back at it, catching some small northerns this time. I missed out. I didn’t ask how far away their tip-ups were, but no fish were to come through the floor of the shack.
Dad said he got some tips from someone and they were going to scout some other spots and probably move the shack. It’s probably a good idea.
They should move it off a ways, then we can set up our tip-ups where it used to be. That should work.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org