Sunday, February 16, 2014

Day 280 - Participating in a Fishing Tournament

I have never participated in a fishing tournament. Stated plainly, this is one event I never thought I would experience in my lifetime. The activity of fishing has been of very little interest to me during the course of my first 30 years. Even as a child I would always end up exploring the shorelines or busying my bored mind with trinkets I discovered at the water’s edge when I would tag along with my Brother and Father on small fishing excursions around our hometown. As I grew older, my disinterest in the sport continued to the point that I voluntarily passed up any opportunity to cast a line when one was presented. There were times I would go along on day trips to fish the rivers and lakes of Wisconsin, but I wouldn’t partake in the focus on each day’s events. Instead, I would sit idly by, taking in the scenery and cracking jokes as my friends fished to their heart’s content and the day slowly crawled toward dusk. Up to this point in my life I have never owned a fishing pole, obtained a fishing license, or been a part of a “big fish” tale. Fishing simply hasn’t been a part of my life, but that suited me well.

Of course, all of that perspective comes against a backdrop of ample opportunity to participate in fishing events throughout the course of my life. My Brothers and Father have consistently encouraged me to come along on annual fishing trips to Canada and to a “secret spot” they have fished for years on the opening weekend of trout season. Additionally, my friends have always welcomed me to join them on their trips to fishing hotspots and to weekends on the water. Despite those facts, I did none of them. In fact, it wasn’t until the weekend before I embarked on my “I have never...” year that I made the trip up north to spend the opening weekend of trout season with my Brothers, my Father, and my nephew. There, I spent the days snapping photos of them engaging in their sport as we bonded on the banks of quiet, winding streams.

It was that weekend that the idea of me participating in a fishing tournament was born. Over a meal my Brother Abe asked me about my “I have never...” idea and my commitment to the concept. The conversation led my Brother Ian, my Father, and a close family friend Marv to start offering me ideas for tasks I could take on during the course of the year. Somewhere in the mix, Abe piped up with a simple remark, “Well, you’ve been to the opening weekend of trout season now. What about coming up to Canada?” A quick check of dates on my calendar showed that wouldn’t be feasible.

“Alright then,” Abe replied, “What about a fishing tournament. You know they always have fisherees on Green Lake each winter. That would be a great experience for you and I would be happy to get on the ice.” The idea was straightforward, but it had resonance. After a little thought I committed to making it possible. “Yeah, I can do that,” I said decidedly, “If this weekend is any indicator, I’m sure there would be a lot I could take away from an experience like that.” Everyone in attendance assured me that would be the case, which set into motion one of the earliest “I have never...” plans of my journey. The seed had been planted. I was going to participate in my first ever fishing tournament on the ice of Green Lake this winter.

A little more than eight months later I found myself waking up to the sound of my alarm blaring through the basement of my Father’s house at 5:00 am this morning. The noise caused my Brother Abe, who had spent the night in the room next door, to crack open my door as he passed down the hallway. “Let’s get moving. We have to get out there before the sun comes up if we want to catch some good fish.” Sitting up in my bed I traced the path that had led me to the morning of my first fishing tournament. My recollection of the conversation Abe and I had at the beginning of the previous spring forced a smile on my face. “Well, it’s finally here,” I muttered to myself as I dropped my feet to the floor, “My first experience with a fishing tournament... In the middle of January... at 5:00 am... when its two degrees outside. What better time than now, I guess.”
5:30 am... Picking up bait.

Rising from my bed, I shook off the linger calls to sleep running through my head and promptly threw on the layers of warm clothes I had prepared the night before. As I climbed the stairs leading up to the first floor of my Father’s house I was almost immediately pulled into a rapid progression of preparations for the day ahead. In a matter of minutes My Father, My Brother Abe, and my Nephew Micah, and I packed bags full of food and drink, gathered supplies for our time on the ice, and loaded our vehicles with everything essential for the trip. “Alright, we have the tip-ups, the auger, food, buckets, chairs... I think we are good,” Abe said looking at the truck of his car in the darkness of the pre-dawn morning. “We’ll stop for bait on the way, and then we are good to go.”

Drilling our first hole
With that, Abe, Micah, and I piled into the car and gave my Father the signal we would meet him on the lakeshore. In a hurry to beat the rising sun, Abe drove us quickly through the still town of Princeton and made a quick stop at the only business showing any signs of activity. A small white building on the outskirts of town had a single, vibrant open sign flashing in its window. Recognizing the location as the bait shop I had passed on the highway growing up, I sat by as Abe hurriedly grabbed a bucket from the back of his car and dashed into the business. Still half asleep, I stepped out from the car and took a few heavy breaths of the cold winter air as Micah followed in Abe’s tracks and passed through the swinging screen door on the outside of the building. I had barely any time to find my way toward the door before Abe and Micah returned with a bucket sloshing with water and minnows. “Let’s go,” Abe said firmly while he loaded the bucket and moved toward the front of the car, “We have to move if we are going to beat that sun.”

Learning the auger...
When we arrived at the Green Lake shoreline Abe was quick to unload the car, stack open arms with supplies and begin the trek onto the ice. Together, the four of us piled through shin deep snow across the lake until we found ourselves a few hundred yards off shore, sandwiched between ice shacks that had taken up winter residence on the ice. With sunrise fast approaching, Abe almost immediately fired up the auger we had dragged onto the lake and began tapping holes through the nearly two feet of frozen water beneath our feet. “I’m going to get a few holes going and set some tip-ups. You can take the auger from there,” Abe said looking at me through the dark. “No problem. I can’t wait to fire up that hog,” I replied motioning toward the auger. Micah gave a slight chuckle at my comment as he dropped a bucket of supplies near the freshly exposed water and began handing Abe a tip-up. “Alright, Caleb, let’s go for it,” my Dad chimed in from a few feet away, “Grab that auger and we’ll get the rest of the holes ready.”

Eager to get my hands on an ice auger for the first time, I gladly grabbed the piece of equipment and started walk with my Dad further across the ice. Over the next few minutes we strategically tapped the ice, checked water depth, and cleared ice debris from around each new hole. Admittedly, the task of boring through the ice excited me a little more with each new hole we drilled, leaving me enthusiastic about the experience for the first time since my alarm sounded this morning. After getting a primer on setting and baiting a tip-up at depth, I walked with the group to a central location around our tip-up holes where we set up our chairs and prepared for the action to begin... Then all we could do was wait.

Looking down through two feet of ice

Micah grabbing some bait

Setting the tip up

With the sky breaking toward dawn we all hoped for the best as we kept a close eye on our tip-ups. Somewhat silent at first, the time passed slowly as we sat on the ice, looking over the scenery around us. With time it became apparent the action on the tip-ups would come slowly, if it came at all, which spurred Micah to track down a football we had carried with us on our trek out to the ice. As Abe and Micah ran passing routes through the snow I kept my body in motion to stay warm in the cold morning air. The slow start to the morning gave my Father and me a chance to get caught up and talk about some of my recent experiences. While the start to the morning didn’t provide any exhilarating action on our lines, those moments were good, and they started to make me realize there was more to the fishing tournament than simply fishing.

Adding some bait

Our base for the day

The sun finally breaking over the clouds

Several hours later May Dad, Abe, Micah, and I had little more than a few bites on one of our tip-ups, which left us wondering if we were likely to see any action as the day pressed on. The inactivity did little to damper our spirits, however, as we spent the morning hours tossing around the football, cracking jokes about Olympic commentators we had seen on television last night, and telling one another stories. Even as other fisherman pulled their gear from the ice and headed home in defeat, we held steady and made the most of our time together. Sure, we hadn’t caught a single fish, but being on the ice this morning with some of my closest family members made every second of the experience, and the cold, absolutely worth it.

Drilling more holes


Checking for movement...

That theme persisted into the late morning when my Brother Ian arrived with his girlfriend, Mitzy, and a backseat full of kids in tow. My nephew, Bennet, and Mizty’s two kids, Tanner and Gracie, were ecstatic to be on the lake when they arrived, which set Abe and I into motion preparing a few holes for them to fish into the afternoon. With Ian equally interested in catching a fish or two, he joined Abe and I in our jaunt around the ice, setting tip-ups and preparing places for the kids to make the most of their time on the ice.

Reinforcements arrive!

Fish aren't biting? Time for some football!

By the time we wrapped up our effort, Abe and I noticed the noon deadline for tournament entries was fast approaching, but it did little to dampen our mood. We happily played with the kids for a while before we decided to head over to the tournament results ceremony. Coming in emptied handed, we were somewhat disappointed as entered the tournament headquarters at the nearby Walker’s tavern, but we settled in for a few beers and caught up with some old friends as we awaited the results. When announcement of the results came over the in-house speakers the weights and lengths of the winning fish meant little to me by way of comparison to “good” results, but Abe was quick to assure me they were decent considering the challenges we had witnessed on the ice this morning. With that, Abe and I decided we would return to the ice once more to try to pull a post-tournament fish out of the ice for the sake of the day’s story, but I knew we didn’t need to do so in order to make today a complete experience.

Fisheree Central 

The results!

When we arrived back at our fishing location we were greeted by my Father, Ian, and Mitzy who were basking in the midday sun as the kids ran around the blanket of snow covering the frozen lake. After receiving word there had been no action on the tip-ups in our absence, Abe and I decided we would organize a football game with the kids to pass the time until we saw a tip-up flag pop. That decision ended up occupying our time for the rest of the afternoon as we squeezed in two full football games before the sun fell heavy on the western horizon. We didn’t have a single bite for the rest of the day, but we had a blast playing with the kids and spending time with family. In my book, that was better than any fish we could have pulled from the lake today.
The biggest thing we pulled out of the ice today... Our bait.

As we packed up our supplies and started making our way back to shore, Abe, Micah, and I talked about the day we had on the ice. While it was clear we all would have liked to catch a fish we could enter in the tournament, we knew what we took away from the experience wasn’t dictated by that event. There was no doubt we made the most of our time on the lake, even in the absence of catching any fish, and the result was as close to a perfect day ice fishing as any of us could have hoped. We all knew our time together today was all that really mattered, and it took coming together to have a poor showing in an ice fishing tournament to make that possible. We didn’t catch a single fish on the ice today, but it was still easy to conclude I wouldn’t change a thing about this experience.


  1. Caleb you are still smiling so that is a good day in Wisconsin. We went snowmobiling today. My Rachel drove her own sled...a fun day for her and Dad too.

    1. Thanks, Beth! Even though we didn't catch anything it was an awesome day. It's good to hear you too are making the most of this winter. Have fun and stay safe!