LAKE OF THE WOODS - The tinting on the window was worn and peeled - like looking through a pair of those retro 3-D glasses.
But 3-D effects or not, the view last Saturday from our ice-fishing house off Long Point was very sci-fi.
"Like the end of the world," I told my buddy.
But there we were, in a rustic, comfortable 10x12 house my buddy's dad had built 25 years earlier, fishing for walleye. Or anything that would take the hook.
I was once told that stormy weather means good fishing. So on this day, we should have been heading in with our limit about the time the furnace kicked in. The fish, however, obviously had never heard of this whole stormy weather thing.
From my buddy's place at Long Point, one of the northern-most points on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods, it appeared to be a cold morning. Not brutally cold for this neck of the woods. But the temps had dipped to around 40 below early that morning.
We knew there were blizzard warnings for the area - and much of the state - Saturday. But before we set out on the short drive to the lake access and onto the lake to his ice-fishing house, all was fairly calm. But on Lake of the Woods, a lot can change in the span of two miles.
Ice fishing on Lake of the Woods - or any other Minnesota lake for that matter - can be dicey if the weather turns nasty, even if you've got a "permanent" ice-fishing house (forget fishing in a portable - and obviously outside - in such conditions).
Besides the usual items - heavy-duty parka, snow pants, gloves, cap, boots - you might want to consider a few other extreme-weather essentials:
An extra heater/propane tank. Last Sunday, my buddy brought a sunflower heater and extra tank to warm up the place if the furnace gave us problems, as was the case the previous day. And on particularly cold days, it never hurts to have an extra heat source. And should the vehicle freeze up on the lake, a small, mobile heater can be placed under the vehicle to help warm it up (better than the old method of placing a trash-can cover full of hot charcoal under the vehicle). It did the trick on my vehicle, which froze up over the weekend. And don't forget the Heat.
A cell phone - with signal. On Lake of the Woods, unless you're with one of the local carriers, you're probably out of luck. The resorts might have phones you can use. Else it helps to have a buddy from out that way.
Convenient nonperishable food items. We brought plenty of kipper snacks. They don't take up much room and you don't need a can opener. And what's more sustaining - and better for you - than smoked fish?
Lots of water. Bottled water is good, but the trick can be keeping it from freezing. An inside chest pocket on your parka, which can utilize your body heat, will work.
A reliable vehicle and spare battery. If things turn bad and you haven't packed accordingly, you can still make it off the lake unscathed.
- Brian S. Peterson
How to get there
From Brainerd to Lake of the Woods, go north on State Highway 371 for about 80 miles. At Cass Lake, turn left onto U.S. Highway 2 west for about 18 miles to Bemidji. Take U.S. Highway 71 north for about 25 miles, which turns into State Highway 72 north. Follow State Highway 72 north for about 75 miles. Turn left on State Highway 11 to Baudette and other points off Lake of the Woods.
It wasn't until we hit the lake that we discovered just how much.
Even driving at about 5-10 mph, visibility on the lake was near zero. In past years, we had reached the ice house on snowmobile. But riding snowmobile in these conditions would be, well, crazy.
Even in a warm pickup, it probably wasn't a completely sane decision. But we parked up close to the ice house, hoping it would block the force of the wind. Ice houses a short distance away were barely visible, the sun glowed faintly and blowing snow created drifts and craters across the frozen lake. This, I thought, was how the moon's surface must look.
Although only a few feet from the pickup, the walk to the ice-fishing house door was brutal. I grew up in the far northwest corner of Minnesota and have spent many winter days on Lake of the Woods. But I never remember it being this cold. The wind had to be gusting to 30 mph. I don't know how the math works, but with the wind chill, temperatures had to be ....
It was surreal.
Overnight, snow had blown up into the house and accumulated in small drifts across the ice-fishing house floor. Early attempts to get the furnace going failed. Even the propane, it turns out, didn't want to come out on this day. But at least inside the house, we were out of the wind.
It wasn't long, however, before the house was warm and we were finally able to get lines in the water. The propane tank gave out on us a few times, but nothing major.
From what I could tell, we were very much alone in this community of ice houses. And being alone on any part of Lake of the Woods can be very lonely. But we had snacks and beverages and a radio. We listened, off and on, to the high school hockey games on nearby Baudette Bay. Not a good day to be playing outdoors, we thought.
Not a good day for catching walleye, either. Fishing in about 35 feet of water and using minnows and colored jigs, we had a decent early afternoon run, catching a few keeper walleyes and saugers. But as is always the case, the afternoon disappeared much too quickly. We didn't say it, but I think both of us wanted to get off the lake before dark. We probably had plenty of propane, if needed, to get us through the night. And in the event of an emergency, my buddy got a decent signal on his cell phone. But if the pickup didn't start ...
Snow had drifted across much of the plowed road as we made the drive back across the lake, and visibility was still poor. That said, there was no one in sight.
Like the end of the world.
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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