MacArthur Goes Fishing

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Like the storied general from WWII, I too, returned.  To Upper Red Lake that is.  A little overdramatic, most certainly… a little redundant, most likely.

With my trusty side-kick Rollie, we planned another assault on this monster lake in the never ending quest for the fabled walleye.

All week the weather pontiffs were prognosticating fair skies, warmer temps, light winds. You know the rest… they lied. They came closest on the temps, but it was pretty much cloudy and the wind was a devil.

Rollie brought along an old teaching friend, Dick, with him on this trip. A Red Lake virgin, so to speak.

We drove onto the lake a little before noon and fished until dark without a great deal to show for it. A couple of smaller fish and lots of time in between to question our sanity. Somewhat dejected, we drove back to shore and stayed at a small mom ‘n pop motel and hit the rack early.

Tomorrow had to be the golden day.

We re-hit the lake at dawn.

With a sliver of sunrise we punched some holes and set up camp.  This time we were fishing out of light weight portable fish houses and not the hard house from my earlier post.

I had to tether mine down with  guy-ropes and specially designed ice-screws to keep my gear, and myself, from becoming a red and white tumbleweed heading for Manitoba in the strong southern breeze.

What exactly does it take to be a successful ice-fisherman these days?

My heart first goes back to my formative days when on rare occasions my father would take me out on the ice, usually during an ice-fishing contest.

Every podunk little prairie town in southern Minnesota near a lake, had a contest in the winter. There would be about a two acre site on a frozen lake, already predrilled with a zillion holes. Usually three hundred people showed up and after three hours perhaps three small fish were caught. None by me, ever.

There would be random drawings of prizes provided by local merchants all day.  None ever won by me, ever.

I sat on a bucket and tried to imagine a monster pike threading the gauntlet of of two hundred dangling hooks just to bite mine. Nope, not never! (Sorry, Margie.)

I remember one contest where there was the usual prize for the largest, smallest, and the most fish caught. They were all won by one guy! He caught the only fish. Nope, not me… ever.

Now back to 2012.

What does it take? I’m sorry to say it… grrrr… TECHNOLOGY!

Cold weather gear has come a long way from when I wore knitted woolen mittens that chaffed your nose raw as you sniffled and wiped. (And yes, they had a string  going from both hands.)

Gone are the days with seven buckle galoshes with three pair of woolen socks. One can actually move now.  And if you happen to fall down, your sister doesn’t have to help you to your feet in front of your buddies.

I now own a handheld GPS unit. It contains a card that has every cotton-picking lake in Minnesota, and it’s depth contours registered in. That’s over 10,000 flipp’n lakes!  Three satellites hovering in black space triangulate where I’m at, and where I want to go within seven feet! It tells me the depth of the lake before I ever drill a single hole.

I don’t want to like this stuff, but man it’s cool.

I fire up my gas powered auger and drill holes faster than a pocket gopher. I then get out my portable sonar locator and check the depth to try to catch my GPS lying to me. It never has.

If you look closely at my unit’s screen you see a black line at the top of the column. That’s the bottom of the ice, about two feet thick. Then there is a super thick band just shy of the ten foot mark.  That’s the bottom of the lake. Below that is just a false echo line.

That skinny, single black line just above the thick one is my lure and bait.  The trick is to get a double thick mark to show up out of nowhere and merge with that single mark.

What does that mean? Two golden walleye fillets, lightly breaded in a bubbling bath of 475 degree peanut oil!

Now does it work? Well, you judge.

If you’ve seen a more obese yellow perch than that, I guess I would have to eat it.

As it turned out, the two lines merged often enough that we caught a limit of walleye for all three of us. With several mongo perch, to boot, that would have made the record books if they hadn’t tested positive for steroid use.

Three happy soldiers folded up camp and turned the trucks south after another successful campaign on Red Lake. There’s a month left to go on the walleye season, and if I can locate a corn-cob pipe, I Shall Return!… again.


P.S. I know many of you have been wondering on the price tag for all this. Some of you may even be male. Fishing legend, Koos Brant, captured my fears best.

My biggest worry is that my wife (when I’m dead) will sell my fishing gear for what I said I paid for it.  

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