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The Icefisherman Cometh

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I have been staring at the frozen lake for two months now. I see them quiet regularly...distant figures ambling in the white expanse. At night I would spy on them with binoculars like a border guard waiting for the Russians to cross the tundra, their tents glowing from tiny lamps within.

"What kind of fish do they catch?", "How do they catch them?", "Is it really cold out there?", "What do their wives say?" , my inquiring tropically-oriented mind wanted to know.

Finally, curiosity got the best of me last Sunday. Fortified with a mug of hot cocoa and a balmy 39o reading on the window thermometer I mustered enough courage, bundled up and headed out.

"Bam!" Miscalculating the slickness of the ice beneath the previous night's snowfall I promptly fell smack on my behind just a few steps from where the shore was. Quickly picking myself up, I brushed the snow off and tried to limp straight ahead.

"Ahem!", I intentionally cleared my throat aloud as I approached the lone figure in the middle of the lake, expecting him to glance my way, the slightest sound tantamount to a holler in the polar silence.

"Hi!", he responded. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

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His name was Robert Stonis. Yes, he has a real job, yes he has a wife and yeah, she probably thinks he's nuts for sitting out in this character-building cold. But what the heck, what else could "expose the human need for illusion and hope as antidotes to the natural condition of despair than... ice-fishing" to paraphrase a review of the Eugene O'Neill classic.

I have always felt an affinity for fisher-folk. As a young boy I would tag along with my father on his Friday night forays to the ruined wharf. I would sit inside the sidecar of our trusty old Yamaha tricycle, feeling the line in the relative comfort of the passenger seat. Of course, it was always I who snatched the biggest fish, usually mulmul, some kind of a bottom-feeder; because the grown ups were often too preoccupied drinking their toddy and listening to distant static-ridden political broadcasts on their old transistor radios.

Suddenly a minor commotion broke my flashback. Somebody had caught something a few yards away. Quickly excusing myself from Robert I gingerly walked towards the action.

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A young man named Chuck Miller had caught a northern pike, a little more than a foot long. "Not a keeper", his doting mom exclaimed, entreating the lad to put it back in the water.. "He always keeps everything!", she feigned irritation. I was quite amused to notice that stage-momhood extended to ice-fishing as well. "This is new", I scratched my head. Back home, do the same thing and you get a smack in the you-know-where and an empty plate.

Turning to Robert, we discussed the finer points of ice fishing. You do not dig a hole...you bore a hole on the ice...its called an auger, dummy! not a drill. And the tip-ups. Ahhh! a product of typical American ingenuity: a fish bites, pulls at the line and tips the flag. I swear after a seemingly endless wait, that snapping sound deserves an orchestral fanfare. "Ode To Joy", sounds apropos.

We made more small talk. Mount Pinatubo (standard fare in my years here), San Miguel Beer (I am pleasantly surprised at the inroads our suds have made this close to Wisconsin ), fishing license...yeah you gotta have one...the GPS-totting warden comes by quite often...keeping an alert eye for that extra tip-up ( you are limited to 3 ).

My equatorial inner-thermostat was quickly running amuck from exposure. But this acquaintance was well worth the trip. After all what could literally and figuratively be more warm and fuzzy than a new friendship made in the middle of an iced-over lake?

"Thanks", I said "for Icefishing 101". He grinned.

"Bye!", I smiled back, almost apologetically. After all, he had earlier called me his "lucky charm" after a couple tip-ups albeit unproductive, when I showed up. So far he only had a tiny bluegill to show for his labors. But I know he was going to catch the Big One. If not today, at least before the floes break for the season. This guy's got class. No fishy-shaped tip-ups here, just utilitarian basics from K-mart. Form follows function. Even his tackle box-cum-stool was a keeper. "Iceman II", it said on the front..the 80s font confirming its vintage.

"Could be an eBay commodity pretty soon", I offered my non-expert assessment as I departed.

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Looking back halfway to the shore, I spotted more fishermen arriving, armed to the hilt with the latest accouterments. What else could they possibly need?, leads one to wonder...a side-scanning sonar? I silently rooted for Robert Stonis. And I am pretty sure my father, now (I hope) serenely fishing in the great pantalan beyond would have approved.

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