Ice Fishing to Tuscarora

Cousins Daniel and Joe were done with their hockey seasons.  We thought…QUICK!  Time to go fishing.  A person never knows when it’s time for hockey to start up again, and that is the truth about that sport.  I’m glad that they love it, and there’re all kinds of things about sports and teams that are valuable and worthy.  Hockey is a unique beast, and I’ll go anywhere gladly to cheer him on, but let’s just say I’m not missing the way it smells.
 Anyhow, this particular Saturday, the lake trout were calling.  They never call me as loudly as they call Danny, but there was one that was taunting me. (Darn it).   My brother Mike joined us too, and he kept saying  “well, I never really expect to catch fish in the winter,”  and I kept thinking…..this is a really long way to go if we’re not expecting to catch fish.
To hike into Tuscarora…..snowshoe, ski, haul….is somewhere between 8 and 10 miles.  In the morning, when we’re packed up and ready to go, we like to say…maybe it’s a little more than six miles.  At sundown, when I limp back in the door, I like to think it’s more like 10.   It’s a day, that’s for sure.
Joe is sold on winter hiking over summer portaging, and –I think I might be with him on that. I honestly like summer portaging quite a bit, but the Tuscarora portage on this particular winter day was pure bliss.
It was a great photo-shoot on Tuscarora, we thought…hey,  no problem, we made it!  The sun came out…but actually it was the longest stretch from the portage to our favorite spot.   Daniel  plowed ahead with the sled, breaking trail for a good chunk of it this time.  And I trudged along chanting in my own head about Sam McGee, from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.  Why he left his home in the south to roam round the pole, God only knows.   He was always cold, but that land of gold seemed to hold him in its spell.  Though he’d often say in his homely way that he’d sooner live in hell. ….
Tuscarora had about a dozen people on it, which at first seemed like a ripoff to travel all that way, and join in the party, but in the end,  no one occupied in our spot at the ledge so, it was rather cheerful to have them across the lake—and hear an occasional yelp when maybe somebody was catching something.
So here’s the secret, when a person stops trudging, a person has perspired, and a person is sort of wet, she gets cold fast.  So, the trick is to drill holes sooner than later, and then change the base layer.  Yep, change the entire base layer.  I’m here to tell you, it’s painful, but the only option.
And then after all that, and after I traded my ski boots for my beloved toasty Neos, I stood by the hole and sloooooowly  lifted the pole up, and lowerd the pole down.   Moving the minnows sooooo slow.    Just the right speed, up…………..and down……..up……………….and down…reel a little, try  a new depth….up………………..and down………….up………and down………..then, I start chanting in my head again.

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;

And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

Up…….and down……………up……..and down…….FISH ON!!!!    Or…in my case…..Hey!   HEY!!!!  I have a fish. YOU GUYS  I HAVE A FISH!!!  So much for outfitter cool.  The boys came running over, and the ice rebounded just a little sloshing a little water up all the holes.  So much for sophomore cool.   We were peering in the dark hole, still reeling, and they’re telling me how to reel, faster, slower, set the hook, don’t jerk it—finally I just handed the pole to Daniel.  But shoot……the line slacked a little in the handoff, and I lost that fish.  ARG!  Snap.  Cannot believe I let him get away.  I STILL can’t believe it got away from me.  What was I thinking???  Darn it.   We had plenty of fish for dinner, but I’m still snapping about that one that got away..
Funny how that FISH ON gets everybody’s adrenaline going, so we switched up a few holes, and we all hurried up to stand by the holes again….up….and down, up……………..aand up.
They caught some,  lost a few, lots of action, Denali supervised.  Mike caught a few that he didn’t really expect to catch in the winter,  we hauled it all back, and shuffled through a fish dinner…..unbelievably tasty, it’s true.  Something about fresh, cold, water trout—well, we had to smile before our heads dropped.  I had one dream that I was 90 years old, and was a really good sport about it.  Everyone thought it remarkable, how I could get around so cheerfully with all that arthritis.   I was THAT sore, in my dream, in my bed, in my sleep.  Had to be 10 miles….
Good day, good guys.  It doesn’t escape me (or my brother Mike)…that our roles in these cousin adventures are fleeting.  I look forward to the stories that Joe will retell—it’s a gift he has, to make it almost better than life.   And I’m grateful for freezeframes that make up my the movies of my memories.  It was a good one.
But darn it.  I still can’t believe I lost that one.