By Zach Hagadone
Regarding the many forms of fishing, I’ve already made clear my lack of real success or skill. Still, it’s an activity I enjoy. The other week, when we were sunk in a deep freeze and cabin fever in my particular cabin was approaching a fever pitch, I got it into my head to make my family experience ice fishing.
In addition to general lack of success or skill, ice fishing is a form of fishing with which I have little experience. Undaunted, I packed up the rods and tackle, grabbed an ax and a couple of chairs and layered up. When it came time to pile into the car, no one wanted to go with me so I exercised my fathers’ prerogative and forced my almost-9-year-old son to come along.
“It’s good for you,” I said, a la Calvin’s dad, of Calvin and Hobbes. “It’ll build character.”
Good son that he is, he went along with it, gamely packing up his pocketknife and cold-weather gear. He even helped scrape the windshield.
After a stop to pick up some maggots and worms, along with an assortment of beef jerky, a bag of Cheetos and our preferred beverages, we journeyed south on the Long Bridge, marveling at the extent to which the watercourse had frozen from the train bridge to the river.
I repeated stories about how it used to freeze like that a lot when I was a kid, and one year it iced up so quickly that huge rafts of coots got trapped, their feet frozen solid. They had no escape from the eagles who circled and swooped, plucking them up and away and leaving great smears of blood and feathers. All that remained of their bodies were their legs, sticking up like bristles through the ice.
My son likes gruesome stories like that — including the one I like to tell about the time long ago that my brother found a beaver fully encased in the ice on Fry Creek. Beavers are bigger than a lot of people might think, so it took a family effort and much time to chip Ötzi the Ice Beaver from his frigid tomb and load him onto a sled in a giant block.
I regaled my son with the beaver story yet again as we picked our way over the frozen waves at the mouth of Fry Creek — within sight of the Great Coot Massacre and only a stone’s throw from the location of the Ice Beaver find. The wind ripped at us as we identified a good spot to chop a hole. At that point, my son informed me that he’d brought wet gloves and was dying of hypothermia. Luckily, we’d brought along a sleeping bag, which he wrapped around himself in a chair and zipped to its furthest extent.
The hole cut and hook baited, I exhaled with satisfaction and looked out across the icescape to Baldy and Schweitzer.
“It sure is beautiful out here,” I said in the direction of the sleeping bag. “It’s nice to get out of the house.”
“Yeah,” I heard the mildly enthusiastic yet muffled response. “Can you pass me the Cheetos.”
A frozen little hand emerged from the cinched up bag, I handed them over. The faint sound of crunching then commenced.
I jigged the line a little.
“C’mon fish, I know you’re hungry,” I said to no one in particular.
“Maybe you’ll catch a big old bass,” the sleeping bag said, trying to buck up the old man.
“Yeah, well, we’ll see. That’s not the point anyway.”
I cracked a beer. “Are you drinking a beer?” the sleeping bag asked.
“It’s freezing out here.”
After a few more minutes I opened a bag of jerky.
“Are you eating jerky?” came the voice from the sleeping bag.
“Can I have some?”
The little hand reappeared. Taking the bag, the voice from within remarked, “This is the best gas station jerky I’ve ever had.”
We stayed out there for about an hour and a half. I bumped bottom once, I think, but told the sleeping bag that it was a nibble, just to keep things exciting. But I was getting cold, too, so we packed up. As we were doing so — and my son had emerged from the bag — he looked at the hole.
“How long do you think before it’s gone?”
“Before you know it,” I said.
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