Trial and Error Fishing | | Brainerd, Minnesota

Trial and Error Fishing

I love to fish.

My wife can attest, during the summer, if I have some free time, I'll be out on the water.  If I can't get my hands on a boat, shore fishing is perfectly acceptable.  She's come to accept this, sometimes, she even encourages it (I think it's because I get on her nerves sometimes...)  My oldest daughter, almost 4, enjoys it almost as much as I do!  We've spent hours this last summer fishing for panfish, then usually go swimming after!  It's a great way to spend a hot summer day! Come to think of it... my fishing pole is still in the trunk of my car!

Inevitably, the question is asked of me- "So, do you ice fish too?"  It's hard to live in Minnesota and not have the question asked.  In a land where winter can last months longer than other places, it just makes sense!

People find it hard to believe my answer, sometimes with shock, sometimes with almost a look of disgust when; with a calm shake of my head I have to say, "No, I haven't in years!"

And here's why.

When I was younger I wanted to try ice fishing, I loved fishing in general, all my friends did it, and let's face it, there wasn't a whole lot else to do.  So, i asked my dad if he could take me, and being the great dad he was, he agreed.

Of course, we soon realized that neither of us really knew anything about it since we had never been ice fishing before.  So, we went to the local hardware store (where I grew up we didn't have a sporting goods store, "hardware store" meant a lot of things!) and picked up the essentials: poles, line, ice chunk scooper, bait and a couple of buckets.  Being Minnesotans we already had the appropriate winter wear- gigantic wind resistant parka with Thinsulate, heavy duty boots, hat, mittens, snow pants, long underwear, facemask, earmuffs, finger warmers, toe warmers, blow in insulation for extra lining in our coats... ok ok, so we didn't have all those, but we were prepared!

So we bundled up, borrowed a gas auger from a friend, and headed out to the lake.  We went to a pretty popular lake, word of mouth said they were really biting, picked out a spot near some other folks and set up shop.  After a bit of effort we got the auger going, drilled down until the water shot up, parked our seats on our buckets and waited patiently for the fish to start biting. 

We waited.  And waited.  And waited.

A couple hours passed.  We didn't think too much of it- after all any fisherman will tell you that happens from time to time, patience is a virtue after all.

More time passed- it was starting to get cold, there wasn't a huge wind or anything, but the near zero temps will get to the most hardcore Minnesotan after a while- even if you have extra blow in insulation for your coat...

With every tick of the watch hand we watched our "neighbors" pull in fish after fish- they could hardly keep their line in the water!  As my brain slowed with the temps the only continuous thought I had was how much I hoped that they would have so many fish come out that the water would leak through their boots and they'd have to leave....

We couldn't leave- everyone else was catching fish- it had to be our turn soon! Tick...tick...tick....tick.......tick.......tick..............tick.........

Finally, nearing dusk, we decided that we had been through enough, at this point our neighbors had their limit and had left, so now there was no excuse- our line must have looked funny, the sunlight refracted different on our hole and scared the fish away.... but no luck. 

My dad and I looked at each other, well, we turned to each other, we had to look because our eyelids had frozen open... and with that unspoken nod (you know- the Man Nod), reached the conclusion that it was time to head back- not because we hadn't caught anything but because if we didn't my mom and sister would be wondering where we were and we didn't want to cause worry to anyone.  (Not to mention anytime you go outside there is also the unspoken rule of hot chocolate...)  We pulled out lines up, saw the bait was still there (it had been all day) and did the "last cast" that all fishermen do- the one last, ceremonious, cast that signals the end of the trip (unless of course you catch something- then it signals the beginning of overtime!).   I decided that I would scoop the ice chunks out of the hole one last time too- my dad had been doing it the rest of the day- I wanted my turn.  So I grabbed the scoop, and figured I should do a good job, so I reached deep, determined to get every last bit of ice- by george if I couldn't catch a fish we'd have the cleanest ice hole on the lake!  I reached deep, feeling the ice chunks brush past the scoop...

...and hit the bottom of the hole.

What?! Yes, I hit the bottom of the hole. 

Apparantly we had been fishing on our own custom made ice shelf.  In our inexperience we didn't realize that the water pressure could force water up the hole, even if you weren't quite all the way through the ice- so we never checked any further- water=through the ice right?  It turns out- no.

If our neighbors had stayed they would have witnessed the silent dance of fury that followed, along with some throwing of things... and until this day had lived under the excuse that "they just hadn't been biting." 

So, no, I don't ice fish.  Every year I tell myself I should give it another try, but I know, I just know, that I would be so determined to make sure the hole was complete it would end with me basically drilling too far and losing the auger to the lake... which would also result in the throwing of things...

In the end this makes me a fair weather fisherman, and don't get me wrong- it's not because I can't ice fish- it's because the fish wouldn't stand a chance. 

That's my story, and I'm stuck with it.