By Nick Simonson
In the dreamsicle light of dusk on the backwater bay, I led a line of young anglers out onto the snow-covered water in hopes that a few willing crappies would fill the couple of hours between our afternoon of sledding and a planned pizza dinner back at the cabin. The line, however, was longer this time as my oldest son and the three kids of two of my wife’s friends joined me. Among them was my godson, Gavin, and his younger brother, Lincoln, now three years older than when I had last seen them and five years older than when we had last fished together. That pairing was my first trial run as an ice fishing mentor, as Gavin then at age five, and I, sought crappies and bluegills on the ice of a small farm pond west of where I used to live, and his brother joined us for a couple winters thereafter before I moved away.
In the fading sunset, I eyeballed a spot along the channel’s bend against the near shoreline and punched a hole, calling out to Gavin to grab the Vexilar and asking if he remembered how to use it. Assuring me he had plenty of experience since our last fishing trip together, he yelled out a depth of 18 feet as I created a couple more slushy cones in a nearby line and he noted a rise up the channel edge. We popped the hubs out of the oversized thermal tent and set it up, punching holes for bobber rods and kicking out the legs of the bench seat the younger anglers would join us on.
After sliding the shack into place, I set about adjusting the bobber stops on an assortment of rods, keying the dangling minnows to a foot off the bottom in the hole just outside the shack, about the right height from memory from previous seasons spent fishing the bay. I had hoped the success would be similar but was happy just for some ice time with old students and new ones. With each slide of the string and adjustment of foam, Gavin was there to take the rod from my hand and deploy it inside the blue-sided tarp house for the already antsy younger anglers waiting for the evening to begin.
“Remember when I used to do that for you,” I asked him as I handed another rod over, recalling our times on the hardwater of southwestern Minnesota, “and I remember when you made the switch from the float to the Vexilar, watching my spring bobber for a hit from those crappies,” I continued as he chuckled in recognition, running the last of the combos into the icehouse.
Making certain my son and his newest angling buddy Kaiden had their bobbers in place, lights properly hung and illuminating the shack for our efforts, I sat next to Gavin and dropped the transducer down alongside his line and set my jig in the adjacent hole. Despite the change in location, the crowd of young anglers with us, and the astounding growth of a kindergartener into a teenager, it all felt so familiar as together we watched the screen and a fish rolled in below my jig and the small spoon he was working. Taken back in time, I recommended a jiggle and pause presentation as the fish rose and I reminded him to watch the tip of his rod as the line engulfed his stalled lure on the screen. The last eyelet jumped, and before I could say “get him,” Gavin set the hook on the fish below.
A green-and-gold crappie came up the hole and he lifted it for the rest in the house to see and completed for me the memory reborn as reality a half decade from our last fishing trip. While the crappie wasn’t quite the foot-long slabs we had come to expect from what he and his brother now refer to as “the secret pond,” it was perhaps the most significant fish of the season for me as the realization that the young angler I had mentored had now become a mentor to others, a solid right-hand-man on the ice when I would likely need to call on him again, and ultimately, a capable sportsman in his own right.
Pushing through the finicky fish that remained, together with Lincoln we helped the two younger ice anglers stave off boredom as we passed the puck of the Vexilar around and showed them the fish moving below, but frustratingly not biting. Up until we received the dinner bell text from the cabin, together we passed on information, experience, and sometimes just the silly stories we had in days gone by of wet boots, stuck trucks, and wild fishing. The fact that Gavin told more stories than I did, and the lone crappie he pulled up was enough to make it one of the most memorable outings of the year, if only for the chance to experience the coming full circle of my efforts and the enduring hope that it will continue turning…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Some Things Never Change. The author’s godson, Gavin Schreurs of Russell, Minn. with a crappie from the weekend adventures. Simonson Photo.