Frozen Lakes And More Fish Tales

Daily Globe Photographer Tim Middagh captured this photo of a Lake Okabena sunset showing the small city of ice houses dotting the lake in January.

A few weeks ago, Nephew Matt invited me on an ice fishing expedition to one of southwest Minnesota’s lakes. It sounded like a fun day with his 6-year-old, my great-nephew Brody, about to experience his first ice fishing outing

The plans were in place — we’d meet at the lake in the morning and I’d climb in his truck for a ride across the frozen waters. He’d supply the shorter fishing pole and bait, and drill the holes. Even better!

The only trouble was, I had 12 hours to worry about what could go wrong.

What is there to worry about? Plenty!

My track record with ice fishing isn’t so great. In fact, it’s downright frightful!

My first ice fishing experience was with my college roommate. We visited her folks one weekend and her dad took us out on Big Stone Lake. The lake itself is 26 miles long, though I’m not sure how many miles we traveled to reach the fish house.

What I do remember is Mary’s dad driving us across the frozen lake. I wasn’t too worried … until the truck hit an ice heave and our driver braced himself and made audible gasps. Turns out he doesn’t fish in the summer because of his fear of drowning.

As if that wasn’t worrisome enough, once we’d settled in the fish house, the sounds of cracking ice became quite disconcerting. My motto became: Don’t worry about what you can’t see. I couldn’t see beyond the walls of the fish house, so all was well.

Mary and I baited our hooks, dropped them down and waited for a school of fish to swim by.

I remember thinking how different ice fishing is compared to shoreline fishing in the summer. For starters, I couldn’t get used to the short fishing pole.

That, as it turned out, was the least of my problems.

When that school of fish came by, Mary and I each reeled in our first fish, and then they hit the floor of the fish house and bounced around like a kid in an inflatable bouncy house.

Our fishing lines were tangled beyond recognition … which one was hers and which one was mine.

As if things couldn’t get worse, Mary’s dad swung the door of the fish house open and saw us there with our lines a tangled mess. Uff da, were we in trouble!

In the time it took to untangle the lines, the school of fish had moved on. As I recall — and this was 20-plus years ago so my memory may have faded a bit — we went home with an empty bucket (the two fish we caught were too small) and wounded pride. Mary’s dad, on the other hand, caught several nice walleyes through a hole he drilled somewhere away from our fish house.

Determined not to let that experience be our last memory of ice fishing, Mary and I would later try our luck on a lake near Hanska in her now-husband’s fish house. I don’t recall why, but I was the one to drive us out on the lake that afternoon in my two-door, Maui blue Chevy Beretta.

Neither Mary nor I were real familiar with the lake — and we stayed out in the fish house longer than we should have. I remember it being really — really — dark when we packed up our gear and stepped outside of the fish house.

Neither one of us had a clue about the direction we faced and the path to take us off the lake, and the sliver of moon was absolutely no help at all. Had we known our route, I’m sure we wouldn’t have ended up with “Thin Ice” signs shining in front of my Beretta’s headlights.

Panicked? You bet!

I think Mary and I would have gladly kissed the ground when we finally got off the lake and onto the snow-covered gravel parking lot.

I haven’t been ice fishing with Mary since then, and actually, have only tried dropping a line through a hole in the ice once since I moved back to Worthington 13 years ago.

It wasn’t so much my past experiences that led me to cancel on Matt and Brody a few weeks ago. It was the dense fog. Yeah, that was it — that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!