It started as a casual conversation between two businessmen – myself and my friend Pete who was in the iron casting business. We had known each other for a number of years. My company would buy castings from Pete’s company in Wisconsin.
Pete struck me as a real outdoorsman. He was articulate in our negotiations and other business interactions, but there was always a strong hint of someone who would be “rough and ready” when he was not wearing a tie.
On one visit to his plant near Sheboygan, Wisconsin we started talking fishing, a sport we both were quite enthusiastic about.
“You ever been ice fishing?, Pete asked.
“No, can’t say I ever have, although when I guided on Lake of the Woods there was always talk of ice fishing in the winter”, I responded.
“Well, you’re missing out on some serious fun. You just gotta’ come up this winter and ice fish with me. I’ve got an ice house, auger, heater, all the stuff you need”, Pete excitedly explained.
Long story short, I bit (pun intended). We agreed on a date in early February on Lake Winnebago. Pete stored his ice house up there and it would be on the ice by then.
Now I’ve never been what you would call a “cold weather person”. That’s just not me.
Winter to me is about sitting in front of a roaring fireplace with my wife and our dogs watching TV or reading a nice book. I’m not about bitterly cold and blustery days outside when the thermometer drops into minus territory.
So, the closer the date for my ice fishing excursion came, the more apprehensive I became.
I called Pete about a week before departure to check in. “Is the ice thick enough for you to get your ice house on the lake? What’s the weather look like for next week? If you have to change plans I completely understand”, I offered in somewhat of what may have sounded like a pleading tone.
“We’re good to go”, Pete responded. He didn’t use the word whimp so perhaps I fooled him.
A week later I met Pete early on Saturday morning in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for my very first ice fishing experience.
And it was C-O-L-D. I don’t recall the exact temperature, but I know it was close to or below zero. And the wind was blowing. A lot.
We drove around the lake for a while and then onto the ice. His truck was warm, but outside it could have been Antarctica as far as I was concerned. Bleak, gray, snowy, and seriously cold, justs right for polar bears.
Soon we arrived at his ice house.
I had previously seen pictures of some pretty fancy ice houses. Frankly, I had expected something not quite as nice as the Ritz-Carlton of ice houses, but certainly compact, warm, and inviting. That was NOT Pete’s house; somewhere way south of a Motel 6 to continue the comparison.
Pete’s “house” was constructed on some sort of a wooden frame on skids, with siding about half way up and an old tent or tarp covering the rest of the structure. The door was basically a flap that was tied closed with bungee cords. It wasn’t even close to creating a warm environment in my mind.
I helped Pete unload the truck as his friend George drove up.
“Great day for ice fishing, hey?”, he exclaimed.
“Well, I’m new to this so I guess it is”, I responded.
George unloaded his gear which included a bottle of whiskey, a cooler of beer and sandwiches, and a few ice fishing rods.
Inside the house were lawn chairs. That pretty much describes the accommodations. Basic on basic. And it was not cold. No, actually it was way beyond cold. And the wind came “indoors” from everywhere. It swirled around inside the house, and inside my clothes. Crazy cold. Occupants of a meat locker would have sought better surroundings.
George augured three holes in our house “floor,” the ice on the lake, as Pete fiddled with the small (really small) propane space heater. Soon the heater was lit, ice chunks dipped out of the holes, and the tip-ups set.
About this time my two fishing companions decided it was adult beverage time. “Beer? Whiskey? Maybe a sandwich?”, they asked.
I gotta’ be honest with you here. I was absolutely freezing my ass off and it was barely 10 AM. Drinking anything other than a big mug of steaming hot chocolate, which of course was not available, was completely out of the question. And surely any sandwich would be stiff as a board and could serve as an immovable doorstop in this cold.
I politely demurred as my teeth chattered away. I honestly don’t remember ever being as cold as I was then. And the day was still young.
The day passed like cold molasses. Beyond slowly, which pretty much described the fishing action as well. And I just got colder and colder. Pete and George were going through the beer and whiskey at what I thought was a fairly rapid pace, while continuously offering me some. I continued to politely refuse as I didn’t want alcohol on my breath when my body was taken to the coroner.
Finally, and I do mean F-I-N-A-L-L-Y, it was time to load up and go home. No fish to take with us and very little whiskey, beer, or sandwiches either.
After helping Pete and George load as best I could with my feet and hands being totally numb, I bid them both adieu and jumped into my truck, turned the heater on broil, and headed south to Indiana.
It was about an 8 to 9-hour drive home. Finally, about Terre Haute, Indiana (100 miles north of our house) I turned the heater down to bake.
Lesson learned? Simply put, think before you answer ANY invitation in unknown territory. I still shiver when I think about my failure to do this!