Have I ever told you how ice fishing ruined my life?
Have some hot cocoa (One of us should.) Light a fire in the fireplace (I would have, too, but car fires are ‘socially unacceptable.’) Get your comfy clothes on (Note how dry they are.) And put your feet up (Lord knows I couldn’t.)
Now that you’re guaranteed to enjoy the story more than I did, let’s get to it.
I was ten, maybe eleven at the time. I don’t know if my Dad took me out of school or if it was a wintry Saturday, but it was time for a day out together. Other kids’ dads took them to hockey games (I wasn’t interested) or to the movies (I was told I wasn’t interested) and they were all missing out on the REAL magic of father-son outings that could only take place at the hands of Mother Nature, who always seemed to have something to prove. (Sometime, ask me about Canadian fishing trips…)
We went out to some remote lake and we unloaded the car. We were no slouches. Ice fishing with Major Craig Stoker was as real as it got. There was something called a shanty, which is (apparently) a fancy word only ice fishermen use for a tent. There was also this wooden sled that he built. It was on skies and had these compartments built into it. It was part furnace and part stool with some storage options thrown in for good measure. My dad would put a lantern in one compartment and sit on the other one. This provided light (either pre-dawn or in the shanty) and warmth. (Because building a wooden box meant to house a gas lantern that burns hot enough to keep you warm is a GOOD idea… yet it never burned up, so maybe I should give him credit.)
We pulled the sled and the shanty out onto the ice. If I was old enough, I pulled the sled/stool/furnace/storage solution and he towed the shanty. He was so serious about ice fishing that he was known to bring cross-country skis and mush the whole getup out onto the lake. (Is that word reserved for dog-sledding, or can I use it here?)
We’re walking along on a frozen lake and I can remember wondering if that feeling was actually my snot freezing in my nose or just my imagination. I’m trudging through a few inches of fresh snow and then I wasn’t anymore. I just fell down. One leg, all the way up to my… as far as it would go… into the lake.
Some previous ice fisherman had neglected to mark his holes and left me feeling like the sad and unfortunate victim in another of Mother Nature’s lovely “worst scavenger hunts ever.” (“Welcome to Scout Camp! Which troop will find the mud hornets new nest first?” “Stingrays would have swam away if you swished your feet in the sand.” “Isn’t it cute? But it’s just a cub… you can’t even see the one you really need to worry about.”)
I yelled, as much as I could anyway. Ice cold from toes to thighs tends to limit the ole’ pipes a bit. Eventually, my father felt a disturbance in the force and turned around. He pulled me out, pre-hypothermia, wrapped me in a blanket and put me on the sled/stool/fire hazard. He towed me back to the car and I remember shivering violently and counting. He probably told me to count to keep me from going into shock or something and I listened. Of course, he told me to go ice fishing, too, and look where that got me.
He got me situated in the car, turned the heat on full blast and went back for the rest of the stuff. I remember being wrapped in a blanket on the front seat, in nothing but my underwear waist down and the blanket was strategically positioned over the air vents. (I mean… if the sled/explosion-waiting-to-happen never went up, a blanket on a heater should be fine, too, right?)
Overall, I think I did better on the trip than he did. I certainly caught more ice. Overall, it was a good experience in that I realized that I could live without ice fishing and be a happy person, though my leg still twitches near large bodies of water in February. Overall, I’d still rather have that experience than not have it.
That’s what a good dad does. It’s the fatherly privilege to not only subject a son to as many borderline engineering debacles as possible, but to have adventures. Even ones that don’t end with a fish as long as your arm. We may have started the day going for Crappie and ended it with crappy, but it wasn’t the fish that made those days what they were.
He apologized a lot. At first, I thought that maybe it was because he had been the guy to cut those holes the day before… I’m just kidding. He felt bad, genuinely bad. So bad that we went to McDonald’s for breakfast and we had a real, sincere “Don’t tell your mother” moment.
(And now I’m wondering if that was about the ice fishing or the McDonalds. Sorry, Dad, if this gets you in trouble…Mom, really, I’m ok. But now you know why I never visit your lakeside retirement home in the winter.)
Yeah, it was cold. Sure, it was miserable. But it was also an adventure, one that I wouldn’t change even if I could. Ok, maybe I’d change it a little…
Now that I think about it, maybe it didn’t ruin my life as much as I thought.
I still don’t ever need to go ice fishing again. Don’t ask.