Valuable pointers from the world’s worst ice fisherman

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 28, 2001

My phone rings.

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

My phone rings. It does things like that. I answer it. I do things like that. The caller is Jim Pilgrim, local Convention And Visitors Bureau czar. Jim has something up his sleeve. He always has something up his sleeve. He tells me that he is going to be on a national radio show called &uot;Agri-Talk&uot; and he’ll be talking about ice fishing.

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What Jim needs is a man who knows less about ice fishing than anyone in the country. Of course, Jim immediately thought of me. It’s probably because my wife always wears her &uot;I’m with stupid&uot; T-shirt whenever we go out.

&uot;What do you know about ice fishing?&uot; Jim asks.

&uot;I know that the larvae from the goldenrod gall makes great bait. And if you lie down on the ice with your head in the hole, it makes you look professional. It helps to listen to music while you’re fishing – especially if you play something catchy. Oh, I know you have to cut a hole in the ice and if you are from Kansas, you have to cut a hole in the ice big enough to put a boat into the water. From personal experience, I have learned that the fishing in the city arena’s hockey rink is lousy and that the workers there get grumpy when you cut a hole in their blue line,&uot; I reply.

&uot;You are my man,&uot; says Mr. Pilgrim.

That is how I ended up on a big radio show, heard all over the country, talking about ice fishing. I watched &uot;Grumpy Old Men&uot; three times in preparation. This movie is a terrific documentary. I practiced shuffling across the ice. I learned how to fall on the ice. Now I am the world’s worst fisherman, but that’s the good part about fishing – you don’t have to catch anything to fish. It’s like shopping. My wife can go shopping and come home with nothing.

Why do people ice fish? To a married man a fish house is a doghouse with an entertainment center. It is a place to get out of the house after a tough day of taking out the garbage or changing a light bulb.

I know that the barometric pressure makes a difference in fish activity. Yes, fish regularly watch the Weather Channel.

I have learned that dynamite is a poor choice for making a hole in the ice. I have discovered that hearing the ice crack for the first time is so scary that it is better than an hour of aerobics. Mealworms or minnows work well as bait, but the best thing to do is to wait until you catch that first fish and then ask it what it wants to eat. That’s a little secret that most fishermen won’t tell you.

I must confess that I have told visitors to the area that they could catch lutefisk in Albert Lea Lake. I am not proud of the fact that I enjoy watching those poor folks trying to use butter as bait.

Now, I’m not saying that fishermen have a murky concept of the truth. Wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Lying is a talent seldom overlooked in fishing.

If you question a fisherman’s veracity, you are complimenting him. I have been in houses on the ice that contain sofas, large TVs, satellite dishes and even a bread maker. Who can fish without a bread maker?

Besides the bread maker, the secrets to ice fishing success are experience, patience and luck. Oh, it also helps if you think like a fish. I can’t do that. Had I been able to think like a fish, I’d have gotten better grades in school.

It is a good idea to wear earmuffs so you will be unable to hear the ice cracking.

Those are the only secrets I am able to share with you. Every ice fishermen is sworn to secrecy once he is taught the secret handshake and given the crappie tattoo on the left bicep.

I once went ice fishing with a couple of friends. Three large men equipped with a large, Boy Scout troop-sized bag of Cheetos. Once our fingers were orange enough, we began to stare down the holes in the ice. It began to snow. That is when things went horribly wrong. A storm hit. We shouldn’t have been surprised. Winter is the longest eight months of the year in Minnesota. We caught one crappie. We were snowed in for the weekend. Three large men in a house the size of a porta-pottie, crammed in like three overly dressed sardines in a can. It was like a sleepover gone bad. We got to know each other much better than we had ever wanted to. Be cautious of anyone who claims something is more fun than you’ve ever had. Now whenever I have the urge to go ice fishing, I call the other two guys and they talk me out of it.