A day of camaraderie in the ice village
When the truck crossed the threshold from the boat landing onto the 18 inches of ice covering the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, I listened closely to see if I heard any cracks or pops come from the ice. A half mile out without incident, and it seemed we were in the clear. I turned to my brother and we made a toast to the forthcoming day of ice fishing with our styrofoam coffee cups.
Before us on the ice lay a vast shantytown - clusters of trucks and tents; clumps of shacks made of scraps. The portable villages, a reflection of the lake bottom terrain below the hardened surface. Where there were ridges and weed bed borders, there were anglers. Where there were underwater debris, deep pits, or raised bottom, there were anglers. Along the jagged shoreline there were snowmobiles and tip ups shadowing the shape of the woods. Tucked away in the bays, more shacks and holes in the ice. And through the center of the city on ice ran a snowy highway, upon which snowmobiles zoomed in endless streams, and trucks plodded back and forth with gear, foodstuffs, and grizzled men.
Stakes surrounded every clump of fishermen on the ice - tip up markers. In some cases the markers were more like low, scattered, half-hearted fences, warding off competition from competing camps. After all, everyone on the flowage was out there to compete in the Eighth Annual JPD Warrior Fisheree, raising awareness of depression and suicide prevention. And what better way to heal wounds like that, than to be on the ice, competing for best catch in divisions of Northern, Walleye, Crappie, and Perch.
My father's friends were ahead of us in another truck, and when we stopped to check in with one of the camps they were familiar with, I started to get antsy. The morning was late now, the sun had nearly crawled to its climax in the sky, and we were still mulling around. Our suckers were still in a pail, our tip ups still piled in the back of the truck, and we didn't even have a spot staked out in shantytown yet.
I took another sip of my gas station coffee.