Out, See, Go by Chris Engle, contributor
Darkness fell across Otsego Lake and the wind picked up, pounding on the fabric walls of my shanty like the cold breath of the big, bad wolf. I unzipped the door and stepped out to shovel more snow against the walls to secure the shelter in its place on the ice. By the light of my headlamp, I walked the 50 feet to check the bait on my two tipups nearly buried in windswept snow.
The lines were still baited, their minnows circling in the black water. Walleye had been hunting here the night before but, so far this evening, they were all but absent.
As I marched back to my shanty through slush and blowing snow, a thought passed through my mind: “What the heck am I even doing out here?” With the fish not biting, a frozen lake in a snowstorm is not a pleasant place to be, even with shelter.
Just then, the flap door of one of a dozen nearby shanties zipped open, spilling light and warmth into the night. Out stepped two kids, bundled against the elements to check their own tipups while dad watched their lines inside.
“Suck it up,” I told myself.
My daughter joined me on a couple fishing trips last week at her request. The timing couldn’t have been better – with the “January thaw” in full swing, temps were in the 40s and the ice surface was clear of snow, making walking easy for her little feet even though she prefers when I tow her in the sled.
A fisherwoman I’d met the day before was back again and welcomed us out. She pointed us to some holes a short distance away that had been vacated by another fisherman.
“He was getting a lot of action over there,” she said. “He caught some nice perch too.”
Paige and I set up on those holes and in just a few minutes a flag went up on one of our tipups. There was a fat perch on the other end of the line and Paige jumped around, happy to have a fish to play with in her gloved hands.
“See?!” The woman shouted from her bucket seat 50 yards away. “I told you they were there!”
Over the next hour Paige and I put five perch on the ice, a meal’s worth for our small family. Using my ice scooper, she carried each fish to a pile, stacking them carefully on top of each other like steamed corn cobs on a platter. Naturally they flipped and flopped and she chased them around with her scooper, laughing and scolding the fish.
The trip ended when she stepped in a slush pocket and got a wet foot. We packed up our gear and fish and headed back to shore, Paige lying on her back in the sled and staring at the sky.
Our outing a day later was a lot slower and Paige blazed through her snacks while she watched her motionless fishing rod. That trip was a lesson in patience and she passed the time by belting out a Taylor Swift song on repeat, her words slurred through a mouthful of Goldfish crackers.
This week is bound to be a typical one for February, with highs in the teens and lows in the single digits. I’ll leave it to Paige whether she wants to go fishing after school but, with a new set of waterproof boots rated to -25*, she’s apt to be up for it. It will likely be me who will need some coaxing.
Even if you don’t have any gear or a fishing license, you can still have an ice-fishing experience with your kids right here in Gaylord.
Saturday, Feb. 18 marks the annual Youth Ice Fishing Derby at Otsego Lake State Park. Hosted by the Northland Sportsmen’s Club of Gaylord, the event provides poles, holes, bait and tackle to kids and parents. The event is held during Michigan’s Winter Free Fishing Weekend so all license fees are waived, and the park will waive passport fees for that morning.
Good luck and have fun!
Chris Engle lives with his family in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.