Beauty and the fish

Guest Post

Beauty and the fishBy Kassondra Hendricks

My little sister marches through the door into the garage, she wears my father’s black work bibs and they are large on her. The legs billow out at her hips and dangle over her boots so that they are unseen. She looks ridiculous, but then again, who looks beautiful when they ice fish? We trudge to the truck, giggling with amusement about our appearance. The drive to the lake is long and quiet. My father, sister and I squished into the front of the pickup as our gear had overtaken both the bed and back seat of the truck. Music plays, the windows fog up with our breath, and I watch the fields of snow pass by, day dreaming about tip-up flags, monster pike and crappie. Butterflies erupt in my stomach with excitement. I begin to wonder then if my sister is feeling the same enthusiasm about our nearing time on the ice. I peer over at her, her eyes on the road as she follows directions from my father towards our destination. We arrive to the lake to find our normal parking lot full of snowmobilers and those who had participated in that days pike tournament. We settle for a spot on the side of the street and march over to the bait shop. The man behind the counter looks up at my father, ignoring my sister and I as we follow, anticipating his order of minnows. My father looks down at me and as if on command I relay our order with detail. Raised eyebrows and surprise meet my words and we head out the door with minnow bucket sloshing full of a dozen golden shiners and a half dozen suckers, two blondes and a dad.

Sisters Kassy and Alannah Hendricks

Sisters Kassy and Alannah Hendricks

My sister and I layer up as my dad runs off to acquire his secret spot before it is taken. We giggle as we watch him dash towards the lake, sled dragging behind. In time we follow with our own sled and buckets. Our arrival is marked with the first sounds of blade on ice as my father begins to drill away. My sister and I plan out our small tip-up village while we wait for our turn with the auger. Auger in hand the drilling commences, my sister on ice scoop duty strains the ice chunks that remain in our hole. She peaks into the dark abyss as I drop my pink depth finder down. We watch the line unravel and then still, reaching bottom. I show her how to mark the depth on the tip-up line. We adjust it so that our minnow will be about a foot off the bottom and pull the line back up. She watches as I dip my bare hand into the bucket and retrieve a sucker minnow. She watches me as I slip the treble hook through its back, explaining that we want it to be able to swim. We watch the minnow sink down into the abyss, I set the flag, we stand up and step back, admiring our work. Three more holes later, I am reminded of why I avoid the impulse of purchasing a “New Year’s resolution” gym membership. I am down to my bottom layer, a flannel, and a bit sore from drilling holes. The butterflies in my stomach continue to erupt as I gaze out at the four tip-ups we had just set out, my exhaustion forgotten. To my right sat lightening, my lucky tip-up that had resulted in the capture of some of my personal best fish. My sister laughs at its name, lightening has not been so lucky this year.

We slip into our heated shanty and rig our jigging poles. Our shanty, with only enough room for two, results in my dad spending his evening on a bucket a few feet away on the ice. I position myself so that I can constantly peer out the window at our tip-ups. My sister, having not yet experienced the rush of emotion one encounters in the event of a flag, watches as I continuously cease jigging to look outside. There is laughter, there are ripples in the water as the line is jerked up and down, my hand waiting for that familiar light tug of a bite. We are dressed in only one layer now, with gloveless wet hands, a minnow splashes in protest from the bucket, I hear my father’s steps as he meanders off to check a pole. We relish in our 70 degree paradise. The sky has begun to dim, it is sunset, the best time of the day for an ice fishermen. It is not the array of colors strewn across the sky in their melted chaos, nor the drop of the sun beyond the treeline that excites us. It is not the aloneness on the lake that results when those who forsake the night to spend it in the warmth of their homes leave, sleds and shanty in tow. Nor is it the swift drop in temperature that results from the loss of day that lures us. It is the night bite. You never know when it will begin; it comes as silently as the moon appears. A sneak attack of exciting proportions. And that day it was marked by the half whimper of “FLAG!” that slipped awkwardly from my lips in surprise, the sounds of shanty zippers (that always get stuck in these situations) and boots on the hard snow.

You never remember the run to the tip-up, you can’t recall the pain that occurs when your knees hit the hard ice and your legs promise to return your ill treatment by painting your skin with hues of blues and purples. You are concentrated on that flag, your eyes on the tip-up, watching for any spinning of the shaft as the line is drawn out, a hint that your prize is still on the line. Everything around you disappears in that one moment. You flip the tip-up off the hole it covers, you slip your bare hands into the water and gently lift the line. And then you feel it, the 30 lb line slips between your fingers, you let it glide, you let the fish run. If I could liken the potion of emotions felt in this instant to something perhaps more relatable to those who enjoy hunting, I would say it is comparable to the moment you spot movement from your blind, that moment a tom responds to your call as you lean against a tree, the moment you hear the whistle of duck wings above, when your heart pounds along with the distant chorus of a flock of geese on opening day.

back in the holeAnd then comes that heart-skip-a-beat moment when it’s all or nothing and you set that hook, you begin to pull that fish up. This is no battle, it is a partnership, in a way it is a dance. You let that fish run, the line slipping between your fingers, and then it stills and you pull back. This exchange is repeated over and over until it nears the hole and you can name your prize. And in this very moment, during this particular dance, I felt hands on my own. I looked up with surprise to see my sister kneeled before me. Her blue eyes set deep into the hole, her long blond hair wild and alive, her forehead wrinkled with the madness of instinct. I sit back on my heels, my hands losing their grasp on the line and I watch my reflection at work, she required no advice from me. At last the partner tires and the toothed mouth emerges from beneath the ice. I instinctively grab its smooth frame and remove the hook.

My sister is in awe, it’s the biggest fish she has caught (so far). We both smile, we both laugh. We realize how cold we are, our hands and sleeves frozen with a fresh film of ice, our hair knotted, our fingers sliced up a bit from sharp needle teeth. We laugh at our outfits, we laugh at the jig that has been stuck in my sleeve for a week, we laugh at my dad who had been teasing us by yelling flag to see our response. We laugh at the man at the baitshop who had given us girls strange looks and had told us that only 20 out of 150 people had caught anything during the pike tournament that day. We fall back to the ice, my sister lifts her first tip-up catch, a beautiful northern pike that still has a few years of growing to do before it would be legal. I watch her lift the fish and dip its head into the cold water; I watch the fish slowly slip from her hands. I watch her expression as it sits for a moment in the hole, tail flicking, gills flaring before it silently disappears. And in that moment I realized that you can indeed be beautiful while you ice fish. My sister dressed in her oversized bibs, her hair a mess, her hands bloodied and fishy from the pike, her face calm and relaxed, that only a moment ago had been alive with the intensity and eagerness of perhaps a newfound obsession was the most beautiful thing on the ice that day (well maybe not as beautiful as the fish).

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Want tips on ice fishing?  Check out Brooke Vetter’s post here!

One comment to Beauty and the fish

  • Hannah J. Ryan  says:

    Great piece! You go, girls!

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