If you’ve lived in the Northwoods for any length of time, you know it’s ice fishing tourney season. This is when avid, thick-blooded fanatics, descend on frozen bodies of water and try to win a prize from whatever they can wrangle out of an ice hole.
Over the years I have entered a number of these competitions and while I never took home a first prize, I always came away with good memories. I can remember years where T-shirts were worn under snow bibs and the sun was so glaring you went blind. Then there were years when the wind blew ferociously and tip-up line froze stiff, peppered with crystal beads.
For me competitions were only a small part of this sport. Most of the time I ice fished with a group of like minded nut cases who found waiting on frozen water and watching for little flags to pop up, exciting. There’s nothing like hearing “Tip-Up!” ringing through the air; and your blood really starts pumping when that tip-up is yours.
Naturally, I wanted my own offspring to experience these moments of excitement so at a young age I introduced my boy, Jake, to the sport. It’s perfect for kids; lots of room to burn off energy, learning the intricate art of baiting a hook with frozen fingers, and of course, the delicate and artistic talent of pulling a big fish through a small opening.
But in all honesty, I was always happy for my son’s company. In fact, on every trip, and with true gratitude, I would say to him, “I’m glad you’re along.”
We always had fun too. A real treat was when we would drill into a “honey hole.” The first clue you hit the jackpot was when the first flag went up before the second tip-up was in place. It was very exhilarating but in a frustrating sort of way.
When this did happen however, the sight of Jake, running from hole to hole, pulling up fish after fish, made me proud. That’s when I knew the kid was learning his lessons well. Many times we would end up with a mess of Northerns which we always pickled.
Jake is grown up now, but due to my diligent instruction and the many opportunities I exposed the boy to, I would say he can be considered a pro these days. In fact, I’m proud to announce, I have been receiving jars of pickled northern with no effort whatsoever.
But I have to admit, I miss having an apprentice, so I decided to head over to Lake Tomahawk last weekend where a kids ice fishing tournament was taking place. When Jake called unexpectedly right before I left, I invited him along. Over the years the boy has accompanied me on plenty of my photo shoots in a sort of ho-hum way, but he agreed to the adventure.
As we drove off the boat landing on to the lake we marveled at all the activity. There were kids on sleds, eating hot dogs, wearing sun glasses, playing in the snow and well…just being kids. But what really made me happy was witnessing the many adults teaching youngsters how to fish through the ice.
Admittedly, the going has been tough for ice anglers this year. Deep snow, slush and polar temperatures have hindered the sport in a big way. But last Sunday everyone was having fun and while Jake sat in the vehicle, I snapped some pictures.
It was while we were driving back toward shore that I realized just how tricky the ice conditions were. I got stuck. Dutifully Jake got out to push and with the help of a kind stranger, we were on our way.
That’s when I turned to my boy and said, once again, “I’m glad you’re along.”
About 5 quarts of northern pike fillets cut into bite size pieces
Brine to cover fish (1 cup canning salt dissolved in one quart water)
Enough white vinegar to cover fish
Four large onions sliced thin
2 cups vinegar
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. pickling spices
½ cup water
1 cup white port wine
1 cup white Chablis wine
Place fish cubes in a 5 or 6 qt. stainless steel Dutch oven. Cover fish with brine, usually two quarts. Place an inverted plate on top of fish to keep them submerged in brine. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain fish and rinse in cold water and drain again. Return fish to Dutch oven and cover with vinegar. Weigh down fish again and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain. Combine two cups vinegar, sugar, pickling spices, water and wine. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let boil for five minutes. Cool to room temperature. Layer drained fish and onions in glass jars with screw on lids. Fill jars with cooled brine and screw on lids.