I know what makes my husband’s heart go pitter patter: frozen lakes.
In the years before children, we’d sit for hours in the Perch Palace (Grant’s homemade ice fishing house) on Smith Lake outside of Kalispell peering through the hole anticipating the bite. Now that our family has grown to include our 2 exuberant boys, Samuel and John, we ditched the snug Perch Palace for a larger pop-up ice fishing shelter and a lot more snacks.
Many folks think we’re crazy to head onto the ice. I won’t argue. It’s counterintuitive to walk on water, even if it’s frozen. There’s not much that will make my heart race faster than feeling a vibration go through the ice as a crack streaks across the lake. Add the water jumping out of my fishing hole, and it’s all I can do not to throw the kids in the sled and run, no matter how normal it is.
The reality is, ice makes a lot of noise. It might be loud pongs and high-pitched chirps, or deep sounds reminiscent of whale vocalizations. During bitterly cold weather, you can hear it freeze. On sunny days, expansion makes it sing. While it fascinates me, and I often try to record the sounds, I never, ever trust it completely.
When the fish are biting, whether it’s perch, pike, or trout, the mood is high. It’s always a rush to feel the tug, set the hook, and reel up the fish… usually as fast as possible, although that’s not necessarily the recommended technique. Some fight more than others. Perch typically come up easily, but it’s always fun to have a trout on the end of the line, although they go back in the water. Pike are especially thrilling since these toothy creatures hit hard bringing the experience to a very primal level. You know you have something prehistoric on the line when a pike takes the bait, and it’s nice to be able to turn the fish over to Grant to remove the hook from those sharp teeth.
When the fish elude us, other activities take center stage. We bring our faithful lab, Luna, to play on the ice, sometimes pulling the kids as the closest chance she has to being an Iditarod contender, or sitting contently in the ice house waiting for her share of snacks. It’s also an opportunity to read, play games, or just listen to the sounds of being out on the frozen landscape.
There is a different pace in the winter, and ice fishing is one way we immerse ourselves in the season. It isn’t the adrenalin rush of downhill skiing, nor even the heart-pumping effort of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, but there’s a particular thrill walking to the middle of a lake to fish. It offers a quiet moment, a new perspective, and many delicious meals.