Two Weeks on the Ice: Daily Log 12

Fighting off the curse and leading my team to glory

Two Weeks on the Ice: Daily Log 12

This story is part of a series on ice-fishing culture. To read all series posts, click here.

Saturday, February 9, 2019
-23 degrees
5:55 a.m.
Rhinelander, USA 

Tesky and I are on the ice, getting the shack warmed up. A couple mornings last week were colder, but we’re out here in the dark this morning and it feels worse. There’s a steady stream of headlights flowing onto the lake from the boat landing but we’re the first of our group to be in camp. 

Before going any further, we should talk about the Tesky Curse. Tesky is a great guy. We’ve been friends a long time. We play men’s hockey together. We do a little hunting together. And he helps me out when I get in over my head with remodeling projects. But he can shut down a productive area of water instantly. The shack walls are full of notes about the disastrous impact he’s had on our fishing. 

We can’t get the auger running. I’ve been out here for two weeks straight and haven’t had a problem. My Strike Master has been running like a champ. I haven’t had a single problem until right now, but Tesky shows up for the first time all winter on the biggest ice-fishing day of the year and things immediately go bad. Some of the finest pike in the flowage are swimming carefree right below our feet and we can’t even drill a hole to introduce ourselves. Sure it could be bad gas or carburetor issues, maybe even a fouled plug, but guys know what’s really going on. This isn’t coincidence. 

Still haven’t completed a hole. It’s a disgrace. I should mention, this is actually Tesky’s auger. There was a time when he did a lot more fishing, but even he grew to realize his time was better spent elsewhere, so he turned the auger over to us. It’s been the Snake Chaser’s primary ice carving machine for several years now. It’s gas operated, running a 24:1 mix with a 10-inch blade so we never have issues bringing even the biggest fish top-side. It’s a nice auger. But right now it’s just a choking, sputtering mess. 

Next year I’d like to get a propane-powered auger and extoll to you the virtues of drilling holes without smelling like gasoline all winter. 

Steve and Jamie are tag-teaming the auger. Steve’s got the handles and Jamie’s running the throttle and choke simultaneously to keep her in the sweet spot. It’s quite a sight. I can’t go so far as to say it’s effective because it shouldn’t take two adult men to run an ice auger, but it is more or less working. 

My boards are in but it’s chaos around here. Group drilling has led to guys dropping tip-ups into any hole that hasn’t been plugged yet. There is no sovereignty. 

Things are calming down. It’s nice in the shack. Nowhere better to be.

Steve lands a 27 ¼- inch northern before he even gets his third board in. I’m happy for him, but he’s riding my coattails hard with his first two boards snuggled right up to my hotspot. He caught the fish so I can’t take full credit, but I certainly led him to it.

The pace car is rolling. It’s a red eye Saturday morning on the flowage. There’s no tastier beverage to begin the Jambo. 

There's no place that I'd rather be than right here
With my rednecks, white socks and blue ribbon beer

The people in the next shack down, the ones who brought in the big smoker yesterday, slept in their shack last night. They just stepped outside for the first time. They spend a lot of time sitting on coolers right outside their shack.

We're 3 for 3. Steve’s had two flags and two fish. He’s currently in third place with his first fish. Caught another 18-incher in the same hole while Nikki simultaneously pulled in a perch. Steve’s already claimed $35 for first fish and $6 on the $1 next fish pool. Should I get a cut of that cash for all the patterning I did this week? Sure, but I’m giving him his moment in the sun.

Don’t Give me no plastic saddle
Let me feel that leather when I ride

Nikki’s perch is in first place — 10 1/8 inches. 

Steve and I both have our tip-ups in the same area where I landed the musky last week, but he's having all the action. I guess his baitfish are working harder. Perhaps they've had superior training.

Have we talked about the Tesky Curse?

Steve’s up again. Nothing there. Lots o’ line; no fish. Looked like he horsed it. 

For a guy who talked a lot smack this morning, I’ve never seen anyone take longer to get their boards in than Brad. And they’re all about 3 feet apart, right next to the shack. He brought a big box of donuts though, and I can give a guy like that a lot of leeway. 

I’m up. 

Nope. Steve again. Should have known. But it was exciting to think I had a flag for 20 seconds. 

Another miss. He's 2 for 4. 

Lots of gun talk, comparing the merits of Walther and SIG, tight groups with a .300 Win Mag at 250 yards, a .270 for my buddy’s kid, and the power of a 10mm. 

Steve’s trophy pike has slipped down to 4th place on the big board at Lions headquarters. 

Editor’s note: Conditions dictate that from here on this log is no longer completely linear. Times, when given, are approximations. 

The Snake Chaser Ice Team’s entire roster is here: Me, Steve, Ryan, Jeremy, Pete, Tony, Brad, Tesky and Turk, along with alternates Jamie, Nikki and Jonah. 

Brad’s cooking venison steaks on the stove. The shack smells heavenly. I can’t promise you it’ll taste as good if you don’t have a seat in the Snake Chaser, but a little venison medallion on a piece of Trig’s cream bread with a slice of well-aged cheddar is something everyone should have the chance to enjoy at some point in their lives. These moments, when everyone is in the shack — talking, laughing, eating, krausening the morning — are what this is all about.

It’s sunny and calm, and the mercury is belly-crawling over the Mason-Dixon line.    

My buddy Joe and his son Ethan just stopped over in their side-by-side. They’re fishing across the lake from us, toward Duke’s Bay. Joe and I used to coach hockey together and have had some good talks. Great guy. 

Another Ryan and another Joe just rolled up. 

Beaver Bawb is in the shack. He brought us a big pan of pulled venison, and it is fantastic. In the earlier days Bawb used to spend more time with us during the Jambo. He’d cook for us all afternoon. He eventually took over our old shack with a couple of his buddies and started fishing out of that more, but he still comes out every year and it’s always nice when he does. 

My videographer Paul is here. I can’t imagine any of this is going to be usable. 

Whiskey River don’t run dry
You’re all I’ve got, take care of me 

Some days in the shack just get away from you. It was one of those days. The fishing slowed down significantly in the afternoon, but action in the shack picked up. People came and went. We ate pulled venison sandwiches and more venison steaks, and Turk grilled bacon-wrapped mushrooms. There were several bags of Funyuns. Tony brought enough cheese to plug a subway tunnel. Luckily Old Style is a great solvent. 

It was dark before we even knew the afternoon was slipping away. It was night before we knew the day. Official fishing hours ended at 3, but our big fish pool runs until 3 p.m. tomorrow. Some people have picked up. Others who shouldn’t even legally be allowed to operate a tip-up at this point are still fishing. The first guy who picks up his boards always draws the wrath of everyone else, but the guy who leaves his in last draws his own wrath. I’m always one of those guys.    

We stayed out late and listened to the music soft and low
On the tiny blue transistor radio.

This story is part of a series on ice-fishing culture. To read all series posts, click here.


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