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Through the ice

April 17, 2020 by Ted Rulseh

It can be tricky getting a kid hooked on fishing. It’s all about action — number of bites, not size of the fish. Take a kid out and catch nothing, the kid equates fishing with boredom.

It’s even trickier introducing a kid — like my 7-year-old grandson Tucker — to ice fishing. We tried it for a while the December before last; I just set a few tipups while Tucker, younger brother Perrin, and their parents (my daughter Sonya and son-in-law Chad) played on the snow-covered frozen lake. We got one flag, and Tucker was intrigued.

So when the boys visited a couple of weeks ago, Tucker begged to go ice fishing. With help from Chad, I hand-drilled a hole through two feet of ice over a crib near our shoreline. I let Tucker jig a waxworm there. Seated on a bucket, he kept at it for half an hour; we caught nothing, but he showed no sign of impatience.

The next morning he wanted to try again. Once more we got skunked. After half an hour, Tucker said, “Let’s go.” When a kid makes that suggestion while fishing, you take it, and so we retreated to the house. Tucker and family left soon afterward. 

Later on, toward sunset, I reopened the hole and gave it another try. This time the bluegills were active. In about an hour I caught five. Before leaving I laid them out on the ice and took a picture, which I sent to Sonya and Chad.

Tucker’s reaction on seeing it? “No fair!” When we visited their house in Plymouth last weekend I fried up those bluegills for a Saturday breakfast, complete with potato pancakes with applesauce. Tucker and Perrin love morning fish fries.

If all goes well, the family will visit us again starting this Sunday, and Tucker is intent on another run at those bluegills. I have been putting off buying an electric ice drill. Maybe now is the time to break down and buy it. If I do, I can drill more holes in the area of the crib and improve our odds of finding the perfect spot above that sunken tangle of logs and branches.

I’ve seen Tucker’s face light up while he reels in a walleye or a feisty smallmouth during the liquid water season. I look forward to watching him smile as he cranks the apple-red open-face reel until a brightly-colored bluegill emerges through a hole in the ice. 

The pressure is on. The kid is counting on me. I’m under more obligation than a guide taking a couple of guys out on a musky expedition. Would another skunking — a third strike — erect in Tuckers a long-lasting barrier to the sport of ice fishing? Or will he be adept enough to feel the almost imperceptible tap of a cold-water bluegill, set the jig, and bring his first fish up through the ice?

I’m going to buy a few more colors of ice jigs and some fresh waxies and hope the day ends with enough bluegills for one of those fish fry breakfasts.

Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, “A Lakeside Companion,” published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at [email protected]

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