Ice Fishing Through The Eyes of a Southerner

I’ve often wondered what it must seem like to southern folk who look at us northerners with curiosity and wonderment when it comes to our wintertime fishing techniques.   To those fishermen south of the Mason-Dixon Line, it probably seems pretty strange to walk out unto a frozen lake to do your fishing.   Yet, ice-fishing has become one of the most growth-oriented segments of the fishing industry in recent years.

Last year about this time I was riding in a Las Vegas taxi cab when I struck up a conversation with the cabby.   As the conversation went along, he asked me the typical questions like where you from, etc.   When he learned I was from Minnesota I could see his eyes light up with excitement.   He asked me, “Do you know where Red Wing is?”   My response was, “of course,” since the city is located only about 35 miles from my home.   As it turned out, this 60+ year old African American had spent over $5,000 in preparation to live out his dream…and that dream was to go ice fishing before he died.

He had planned the trip out for years.   Bought a new parka, hired a well known guide, purchased a new camera to record the event, plane tickets, etc.…essentially he wanted to feel first hand what it was like to sit on the ice and fish.   His inspiration??   None other than the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” a movie along with “Fargo” that has done more to stereotype us Minnesotans than perhaps any other pair of cinema flicks.

I regret not getting this cabby’s name and address because I have often wondered how his dream trip turned out.   Here’s a guy who spent a good chunk of money just to experience and say he participated in an activity many of us take for granted.   He also said he offered to pay for his sons to come along, as well as some of his friends…but they all thought he was nuts and refused.  Yet, he moved on with his plans and decided to live out his dreams.   I was deeply inspired by my brief encounter with this individual.

I tried to look at the activity of ice fishing through the eyes of a man who has never seen snow before.   It must be incredible to imagine that people can literally set up a “shanty town” on a lake.

The more I considered it, the more I see a growing number of pop-up portable shelters becoming part of this wonderful wintertime activity.   But nothing quite matches the growth that is taking place with ice fishing, especially in the area of fish houses on wheels.   Check out these web sites to see just how comfortable live has become on the Upper Midwest Lakes:

Today, it is possible you can custom design an ice house much like you would plan out a kitchen remodel in your home.   Indeed, I can see where it might be intriguing for a guy who has never stepped foot on a lake to give it a try when you see how comfortable life has become for many ice anglers.
As for my new buddy the cabby looking to recreate a scene from Grumpy Old Men, I hated to break the bad news to him last year.   But at the time when I was out in Vegas we did not have snow or really much ice to speak of back home.   As I explained to him…in Minnesota, it might seem to many to be like an icebox during most of the year…but sometimes mother nature doesn’t always cooperate with our winter fishing plans no matter how much money you’ve spent or how hard you’ve planned out the adventure.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Outdoor Catalogs…They’re Not What They Used To Be!

This weekend I was forced by family to come up with a Christmas list.   It seems, or so they claim, that I am getting harder and harder to buy for every year.   No…it is not that I am so particular about what I get as a gift…quite the contrary, they all seem to tell me that I have everything I need and/or if I want something I usually buy the item before they get a chance to do so.

Well, naturally the catalog I grab first is the Cabela’s which just happened to be on top of the pile (well, okay…maybe it was a few layers deeper…but it was near the top).   Anyway, I begin perusing this catalog and it looks almost like a high-fashion catalog.   It’s not the catalog filled with fly-tying materials and ice fishing equipment I once remembered as a kid.   Come to think of it, hardly any of the catalogs I remember from 25 years ago resemble even in the slightest manner what the company once promoted.   No doubt about it there has been a big evolution with the purveyors of outdoor equipment.

Are you aware of the very popular and chic (is this term still used?) store called Eddie Bauer?   Browse their catalog today or better yet walk into one of their mall stores and you hardly feel a hint of the outdoor spirit left with this company.   But do you remember Eddie Bauer when it used to be an outdoor store even selling trapping supplies?   Well, those days are long gone I can assure you.   But Eddie Bauer was once a trapper who became famous for manufacturing and selling the first-ever quilted goose down garment.   Later the company made popular the bomber style jackets each lined with a natural fur collar.

Of course, today you would never know the humble origins of this store began with an outdoorsman specializing in expedition equipment.   No, today after selling out to owners who eventually ended up being General Mills, this company no longer targets sportsmen…instead, the emphasis is on casual lifestyle apparel targeting women.   Oh my goodness is poor Eddie rolling in his grave right now looking down and seeing what happened to his old store.   Surprising?   Well, we should have seen it coming, way back in the 70’s the store’s management shocked the outdoor world by banning all garments that contained fur…and soon one thing led to another.

There used to be the big three in the outdoor gear market.   Sure, Cabela’s has always been a favorite out of Sidney, Nebraska…but there was also Gander Mountain out of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and Herters out of Waseca, Minnesota.   Each of these three stores has undergone considerable change over the decades.
Herter’s, for instance, was out of business for several years until a business in the Twin Cities bought the name and operated it as a companion store with Northern Hydraulics.   In recent years, this operation has failed and type in today and you will get none other than Cabela’s web site.

Gander Mountain discontinued its catalog operation years ago after reorganization.   Today, Gander Mountain is still a vibrant outdoor retailer but you must visit the store to make your purchase.   Still, of the big three retailers, I’d have to say that Gander Mountain has maintained its long-standing, down-to-earth, sportsman’s image better than the rest.

Sure, there are many other good outdoor retailers such as Sportsman’s Guide, Dunns, Bass Pro Shops, Nite Lite, etc….but none of these carry the retail clout as does Cabela’s.   Over the years Cabela’s has evolved as an outdoor retail giant with a growing presence throughout the country.   Still, as much as Cabela’s has maintained the sportsman’s flavor, it has also recognized that perhaps others in the household make the buying decision as much as sportsmen do.

Indeed, as I peruse the new, modern Cabela’s catalog trying to build my Christmas wish list part of me still longs for the catalogs of old.   Oh how life back then seemed like such a simpler time…no decision on whether I should ask for a coat with Gore-Tex or Dry-Plus (neither existed)…or if I should ask for a new GPS unit (technology not available to consumers)…or if I should ask for an ATV accessory of some type (who had even heard of ATVs 25 years ago?).   Indeed, one can only imagine what changes are in store for the next 25 years when it comes to shopping for our favorite outdoor gear.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Should Minnesota Hunters Be Required To Wear Back Tags?

I’m beginning to hear rumblings that some people think Minnesota should go to a system requiring hunters to wear their license on the back.   This discussion is prompted by the much publicized shooting that occurred last weekend in Northern Wisconsin.   The thinking is by displaying the number it would give other hunters a mechanism to identify and report law violators.

It was reported last Sunday that the hunters who had encountered Vang (the alleged murderer) had taken note of his back tag number by writing it in the dirt (on the ATV, I believe).   When investigators finally arrived at the scene they found this number so they knew who the likely alleged shooter was.   If Wisconsin had not used a back tag system, there would have been no positive way to so quickly identify the alleged participants in this massacre.

There are many states besides Wisconsin that do require hunting license back tags.   A few of these states would include Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, Maine, as well as others.   Primarily the historic reason for the tags was not for identification, but to curb the problem of hunters simply hunting without a license.   In fact, many of these states actually used a button that would be worn on the outside of a person’s hunting clothing.   As licenses evolved, so too has the way states have required hunters to display them.   Today, most of the states that require the display of the license ask for hunters to affix it to the area between the shoulder blades worn on the outer most garment of clothing on the back.

So is it time Minnesota goes to such a system for its licensing?   Truthfully I have mixed feelings on this issue.   As a landowner who has encountered trespassers over the years it has always been my frustration how to properly identify the law violators.   Because I am not a law enforcement official, do I really have the authority to require identification in the form of a driver’s license?   I’m guessing that person has no obligation or duty to me to hand over his/her license to prove identity.   Furthermore, it gets into a very gray area if I can even take any action to detain this person on my property waiting for law enforcement to arrive.   Certainly by attempting such action could quickly escalate the situation.

So yes, indeed, if hunters were required to wear a back tag it would allow positive identification with even the most casual of contact.   The problem is trespassing doesn’t always occur just during hunting season.   Sometimes it is during the pre-season for scouting.   Maybe for the system to really work a person would be required to display this tag whenever he is out participating in activities related to hunting (when in-season or off-season).

Again, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the real reason that most of the states have this system is for the game wardens and conservation officers to do a quick license check.   In most cases these are states that have lots of hunters and taking the time to have hunters remove a license from a wallet is simply not practical.   The officers can move on quickly to check other hunters after doing a quick back check.   Still, I have not heard Minnesota Conservation Officers urging a big groundswell to go to this system…so I must assume wearing back tags is not a big enforcement issue here in Minnesota.

Oddly enough the people who want to see us move to this system are hunters themselves.   One would think that hunters would be the last group that would want to require such actions be taken.   Let’s face it, when you pin a license on your back it can get easily snagged and torn off while walking through brushy areas.   Then what do you do?   Go spend another $5 to purchase a replacement tag?   Is it necessary to suspend your hunting activities until you drive to town and find an ELS license vendor who can print one off for you?   To me this seems like the potential for much more hassle than benefit.

I’ll admit I have never hunted in a state that required back tags as part of the legal requirement.   At this point in time it would take more convincing for me to be an advocate of this change here in Minnesota.   It’s quite obvious that wearing such tags did not serve as deterrent to trespassing in Wisconsin last weekend…and I doubt it would have little effect here in Minnesota, as well.   Instead, let’s put some greater teeth into our current trespassing laws not only with monetary penalties, but perhaps with some form of community service component as punishment to those who are careless in their travels.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.