By Nick Simonson
A heightened wind gust flapped at the canvas of my flipover shack as my youngest son, Jackson, sat next to me sounding out the longer words in his brother’s book which I had tucked into the pocket of my ice fishing jacket and provided to him after our run of fishing had quieted down some and the in between doldrums settled in. My older son, AJ, had found a spot between my brother and my buddy helping to reel in the last flurry of perch that had rolled through as the northwest wind peaked in the middle of the final Saturday of January. Waiting on one more school to move in, I nervously watched the screen of my sonar hoping that our shortening window of time would provide one more blast of action.
Helping Jackson through longer words like “noticed” and “promised” on the brightly colored pages of the hardcover comic book about a policeman dog and an artist cat and dozens of other animal characters, I listened as he handled most of the other words with relative ease, sounding them out when needed. Meanwhile, my older boy requested a playlist from his uncle, and soon the biggest pop hits of the 2010s were playing in the adjacent canvas flipover, just audible over the rushing wind and the whipping fabric. He had found his spot in the neighboring shack, thanks to a solid run of black-striped fish and the urgent call for his help stemming from the suggested inability of the two well-seasoned adult anglers to manage all of the incredible action going on in the house, with bobbers popping and their jigging rods already doubled over. The sense of his importance in the moment was not lost on him as he shouted his tally and its upward trend as a few singleton perch roamed through the area and he continued to uphold his reeling duties on the bobber rods.
The ages of eight and five certainly help build sibling rivalry, and suddenly – in addition to height, speed, distance jumped and how high one can count – the number of fish in a bucket became a brotherly measuring stick. Traded elbows, near contact (but not actual contact) with index fingers and ratcheted-up namecalling led to competition in the blowing snow outside the shack to see who could move more slush with an ice scoop. All those however changed with an invite of one kid into one shack, and the other joining my team as we hunkered over our holes and set our hooks. That help from my two most regular fishing buddies would have made the day a success in itself, but the fun continued as the zoomed-in side of my Vexilar screen turned red and pink when a new cloud of fish moved in.
“The wall is back,” I shouted as our bobbers disappeared and my jigging rod bent with a none-too-subtle strike.
Jackson was bringing up his biggest fish of the day as my float went below the bottom of the ice. I grabbed it and handed it to him as soon as he was done with the first one and he reeled in a matching fish as I landed a slightly smaller one. AJ’s shouts of excitement could be heard as well through the wind tunnel between our shacks as a sizeable group of fish settled in. By the end of it, six jumbos were stacked to my right on the inside of the sled, and we had released at least that many more in the blur of bobbers, rebaiting and shouts of growing totals that rivaled Gimli and Legolas at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. After the final round of excitement, I managed one more fish and as AJ came over to confirm his brother’s count was accurate, I handed him the perch, requesting that he add it to the bucket.
“Okay, but this counts as another one for me,” he bargained, explaining that technically he was the one who was putting it in the pail.
With a laugh, we began to wrap up our day on the ice, many hands making for lighter work as we packed up and daisy-chained our sled houses and my brother towed us back on his snowmobile to the access point on the prairie lake. It was a team effort filled with fun fishing, memories made, and ongoing contests that will continue into the future, made possible through the helping hands of good friends…in our outdoors.