January 22, 2009

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

With the economic downturn continuing to grab headlines, even the most optimistic people can become worried. Just like an apple a day keeps the doctor away, stress can make you end up in a hospital dress. Okay, so Iím no poet, and Iím not really fretting my way into one of those hospital gowns.

But with just about half the town already at home celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.ís birthday holiday, it sounded like a good enough excuse the blow off the rest of the afternoon on Monday and go ice fishing.

My wife didnít buy my forged doctorís note prescribing some fun to take my mind off the recession. So I turned to page two in the excuse play book.

By my logic, if I wasnít bringing home the bacon with a hard dayís work in the office, I might as well be bringing home the fresh fish for supper. By focusing on the effort it takes to clean said fish after they are caught and prepare them properly for cooking, I tried to disguise my ill-advised efforts to play hookie and go fishing, as just another form of work unrelated to the newspaper business.

I tossed in the offer to cook the fish, I know youíre not supposed to count your chickens before they hatch, but she still wouldnít bite. I pledged to write my first Outdoor Corner of 2009 about the trip. Either she was tired of listening to me or I finally had it disguised enough like work to allow the boss to unchain me from my desk and let me go play.

She thinks she has me fooled. I know the only reason she let me go is because they want the fish guts for the trap line.

After waiting out the cold weather that closed out last week, I actually made my first fishing trip of 2009 on Saturday afternoon.

With my truck sitting on death row awaiting the final diagnosis for head replacements, a new engine or maybe a trip to the compactor, the trip got off to an interesting start.

I never knew I could fit my ice fishing tent into the back of a minivan. Those stow-and-go seats in the Dodge Caravan are simply amazing. Push a few buttons and they disappear into the floor, providing plenty of space for that 44-inch wide sled and all its trimmings.

If the van just had four-wheel driveÖ oh well. It does have an automatic rear hatch door, so all I had to do was back down to the pond, push the button and then punch the gas, partially so I could make it back up the hill, and partially to eject the tent. The commotion slid my gear down the rest of the bank and out onto the ice without me lifting more than a finger to press the button. Of course my wife wasnít happy with how I was driving her rig, so she tried to press the button to open the driverís side door so I could be ejected with my all my gear.

I only had to take three rest breaks drilling that first hole. Those bitter cold days that canceled school earlier in the week made for some very thick ice to cut through. I never took an official measurement, but it was roughly elbow deep. I know, because I made a grab for my metalic dipper that sank to the bottom after getting bumped into the hole. The wind was so strong, that when I stood up from my seat to insert the fish finder, it blew my tent out from under me, crashing into the dipper and sliding it into the hole.

The falling objects must have driven the fish away, at least initially. I was getting skunked when Abi and Hannah showed up for a break from ice skating. Mom made it four in the tent and that was apparently enough to get the fish interested.

The girls caught enough bluegill to decide it was time to get back to skating. Abi had the biggest fish of the day, well until dad dropped it back through the hole when he was trying to get him in the bucket. Her record fell later anyway as mom hauled in a huge crappie.

Good old dad spent most of the time taking fish off the hooks, untangling lines, and fishing out gloves and other gear that found its way into the water. Sure enough when everyone else got bored with catching fish and headed off to do something else, so to did the fish, as I never caught another keeper.

Well maybe my luck will change this afternoon. If not, at least I can stay away, from that stress dress for another day.

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