Winter rain transformed the snow pack into a large ice skating rink and warm temperatures collided with the frozen Terra creating a thick blanket of fog. My footing was treacherous. I maneuvered out to my buddy’s portable ice-fishing house on a wilderness lake in the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge. A heavy cloud enveloped me as the shoreline disappeared in a veil of mist.
I slid over the smooth surface trusting I would not over-shoot the destination. A steady breeze pushed the thick air in circles around me and portrayed an eerie, remote, northern feel to the morning. Small openings began to appear like large gopher holes from previous ice fishing excursions as Kurt’s red shanty materialized out of the soupy mix. The buffeted canvas shell flapped like a loose sail in open water.
I stepped through the zippered entrance and was greeted with a smile. A tripod hunting chair I carried served for my personal angling view. The jig opening plunged downward and turned from a whitish green hue to the gray cold below. I hooked a minnow, dropped a line, and waited for that first strike.
We chatted and laughed in between the nibbling Perch. The sudden tug of Crappie and Small-mouth Bass, which fully committed to the offerings, broke up our banter with flurries of excitement. Fishing was good, but not great. Apparently, I missed the prime-time, which Kurt had bragged up from the day before, when fish jumped out of the holes and flopped into his bucket. But still, the setting was unbelievable. A Minnesota moment that becomes sheared into memory.
The walk back with a meal of Crappie was just as adventurous as the trek out. I headed directly for the tree-line which loomed out of the fog like sentries that watch their keep in silence. The bank was turned up from years of violent upheaval as stiff winds guide ice-flows off the water in their annual migration. Crusted drifts of snow lingered as a reminder of winters waning strength. I followed a well-worn deer trail through the oaks. The spongy ground was a stark contrast to the hard, icy surface. The haze dissipated through leafless branches and the wet forest was ripe with expectation of a new season.
As I left the parking lot, the access trail was a muddy mess of tire tracks and melted snow that my old Jeep plodded over with confidence. I hit the blacktop and a spray of mud thumped onto the wheel-wells while I worked the gears and gained momentum down the deserted county two-lane.
Back home I cleaned up the catch for supper. It was a great day of hard water fishing with a good friend.