Monday, March 1, 2010

The Drought is over: Ice Fishing on Devil’s Lake, North Dakota

One of my favorite pastimes is to fish.  I think to a degree we are all attracted to the water in some way.  Some prefer the warm ocean waters, other fresh water lakes.  Trillions of dollars are spent by humans to get up close and personal with the larger collections of the stuff.  Perhaps it has to do with the whole born in the womb thing – a return to a comfort zone of sorts.  Whatever the draw, I love the combination of fresh air and the peacefulness that comes with fishing.  Life slows down and your brain has a chance to relax.  Besides it is a rather masculine activity.  You are outdoors, you get to play with sharp objects and if you’re lucky you may be able to provide dinner for your family – the whole hunting and gathering mentality.

Now, I have been coming to this lake to fish with Tracy’s father ever since I first came here 12 years ago.  Over the years we have caught a number of fish during the summer months, but rarely do I manage to land one in the ice covered winters.  In fact, with one fish pulled out of the water this January, I doubled my entire haul.  Yep, not to brag here, but I have caught exactly two fish when the lake has been iced over.  Needless to say, Ice Fishing is not my strongest suit.  Good thing the Schwann man is there, preying on poor quality ‘hunters’ such as myself, peddling his frozen variety to countless homes. 

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For the past 26 years the town of Devil’s Lake has put on a fishing tournament.  The tournament is always the last Saturday in January and attracts visitors from all over the upper Midwest.  This year there were over 4000 fishermen participating in what has become the largest fishing tournament in the region.  Over $170,000 worth of prizes are handed out between those actually catching fish and the raffle drawing later that afternoon.

Fishing Tournament-2

The tournament itself is not for your casual summertime angler, although a couple of participants this year walked in with the full size rods.  What would they would do if one actually bit?  They would have to be standing so far back they wouldn’t be able to see the hole.  No shelters or electronics, participants are forced to endure the harsh winter environs in the slight hopes of landing the big one.  Today’s weather forecast:  9 above with slight winds – a very mild day compared to other years where it has been –10 with gusting winds.  With that many lines in the water, one would think that there would be quite a haul by the end.  The reality is that in the 2 1/2 hour tournament only about 30 fish see the light of day.  If we do the math…that’s 4000+ anglers divided by 30 fish that’s about 140:1 odds of just catching a fish; half that if you plan on walking off the ice with more than you came with.  So horrible odds with even worse weather why do people do it?  It’s simple, we love to gamble – just ask Vegas.  Besides, in the doldrums of winter in the upper Midwest, you have anything else going on?  Didn’t think so.

Fishing Tournament-1

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