By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
I was about eight years old — eight or nine — and our family was at my uncle’s house in Park Ridge. Uncle Bill’s.
He was a great outdoorsman, went hunting and fishing all the time. He had invited us over for a terrific fish fry — walleyes, perch — all you could eat. Absolutely fantastic fish fry.
We asked, “Where did you buy these fish?”
He was stunned by the question. “Buy them? Heck, I caught ‘em, down by the Eau Pleine Flowage. I go ice fishing there all the time.”
Hmmm … I had never been ice fishing. Then he asked, “Timothy, would you like to go ice fishing with me? I’m going this Saturday morning.”
I didn’t even have to think twice. “Heck yes,” I answered.
I couldn’t sleep for two days; I was too excited. Saturday morning came. The Shoe was ready. Put on some socks. And some more socks. Long Johns. Thickest pants I could find. T-shirt. Sweatshirt. Thick winter jacket. Gloves. Handwarmer in the gloves. Boots. And brought along a fishing net.
My anticipation was through the roof. I pictured a nice big lake; nice warm ice shanty, beautiful heater. That was important. I get cold easily, even just watching the Packers on TV.
My uncle pulled up in the driveway. I got into his station wagon and off we went. An hour or two later, we arrived at a frozen lake, where a few people were already ice fishing.
Bill said, “I got an extra pole for you, and I got the bait. We’re gonna walk way over there. And I gotta tell you one thing — one big thing. I was fishing over there a few days ago. Do not step into any holes.”
I looked across the ice. No shanty in sight. I asked, “Uh, where’s that nice warm ice shanty?”
He laughed. “I don’t use one,” he answered.” Now get out of the car and follow me. And don’t step in no hole!”
I got out of the car, walked for about ten seconds, and stepped right into a hole in the ice.
My leg went down about two feet. My foot was frozen in less than a minute. For the next two hours, I sat in the warm station wagon and read a map of Wisconsin as my uncle ice-fished. He caught a couple of walleyes and never asked me to go ice fishing again. And I didn’t blame him.
The next year, my family went to McDill Pond for a big ice fisheree. Lots of prizes, even for the smallest fish. Tons of people out on the ice. My first fisheree. Again, no shanty.
My brother and I walked out on the ice and some guy came by and drilled a small hole. We had our small poles and a can of worms. We were about two feet from the shore. The water was about a foot deep, if that. I put a worm on the hook and slid the line into the hole.
I watched my bobber for 30 minutes, but it never moved. Sometimes I’d crouch down and blow on it just to see what it looked like if it ever moved. And had to keep skimming the top of the hole which was constantly freezing. No luck.
Then I crouched down again, wiped the stocking cap out of my eyes, and looked down the hole. The bottom was only about a foot from my face. And son of a gun. A couple of bluegills were down there staring at the worm! They circled around it but never offered. Damn!!! I’d lift it up. Nothing. Moved it around. Zip.
I was really getting frustrated. I thought, “Hey, this really sucks, but at least I didn’t step into a hole.”
I was just about to give up when it happened. Those bluegills all scattered. And then … WHAM! Something big with fins attacked my poor worm!!! It was like Jaws! It scared the hell out of me.
My hand was frozen from skimming the ice. I fumbled for my warm gloves and watched as the intruder, probably a big Northern, slowly pulled my tiny pole into the water and made its way to greater glory.
But I didn’t really care. At least I hadn’t fallen in.
So so far I was oh-for-two in ice fishing. Stepped in a hole the first time and had a northern pike swim off with my pole the second time. But I was gaining valuable experience.
Several years passed. Then I ran into two guys who worked at the local newspaper, Gary and Bernie. They said they always caught panfish when they went ice fishing. They asked me to go along to Lake Emily.
So I dug out the socks again. More socks. Long Johns. Winter jacket. Handwarmers. Boots. The fishing net. A stringer. A tackle box. Thick pants. Earmuffs. Two stocking caps. Gloves. A new pole. Bobbers.
Bring it on.
So we’re out on the ice for three hours. No shanty. Wind howling. Gary and Bernie are sitting on side-by-side buckets, and they are pulling in panfish every two minutes.
I’m sitting in a lawn chair about two feet away. Same bait. Same kind of pole, doing the same thing they are doing. And freezing. For three hours. Not a single bite. They’re laughing like hell. And I’m getting mad.
And then…finally, my pole bends! No question about it, something’s on the other end. And it’s big. I reach for my net, and I pull it in.
A turtle. A damn turtle.
Haven’t been ice fishing since.