An Outdoorsman’s Journal – 1-29-2014
by Mark Walters
The Ice/Feast or Famine
This week I gave myself a sink or swim, feast or famine challenge. I put myself on the ice for a Sunday thru a Monday. I did not bring a tent, nor did I bring food (other than dog food for Fire) water, lights or a cook stove.
In other words, I was on the ice for 36-hours, if I was not man enough to catch a fish I was not going to eat. If I could not handle sleeping without a tent I would not sleep.
If I could not melt snow, I would not drink.
My challenge took place on backwaters of the Mississippi River near Trempealeau.
For luxuries, I had my Polaris “Sportsman” 500 for the 2-mile journey. For cutting through the ice I had the best auger in the world, which is the Jiffy “Pro 4” which runs on propane and is an incredible machine.
Sunday, January 19th
High 31, low 26
I found this spot back in the mid 90’s by pulling an Otter Sled loaded with gear as did both of my dogs at the time (Star and Pearl). I would walk 500-yards, drill a hole with a hand auger, realize that I did not have deep enough water and then go another 500-yards.
Just before dark I found water, set out tip ups, and caught a 32-inch northern pike. I made camp and have lived at least 70 nights of my life here since that first experience.
Today, I was very excited as I have caught some big kahuna’s here and I wanted to see if I was up to my personal challenge. After setting out three tip ups, I began the job of collecting firewood, which can be quite a challenge as I did not have a saw and most downed trees have their branches attached, are buried by snow or are too big. After I had enough wood, I took my machete and cut an entire Otter Sled load of wild rice stalks, which I would use for a mattress and as kindling when starting my fire.
Meanwhile my 6-foot, 160-pound/no body fat body was starting to say send me some food. What happens is that I start to get the shakes, a bit of blurred vision, and as soon as I put something in my stomach everything is fine.
By 3:00 p.m. I was starting to realize something, that I already knew, and that there was a very good chance that the fish would not be hungry. In January there is very little oxygen in the water (especially this January) and fish survive by shutting down their metabolisms.
By 5:00 I had two minnow tips and then I actually had a monster from the deep trip a flag, pull out about 20 feet of line and drop my minnow.
Just before dark, I was very hungry, told myself I would go to my sleeping bag as soon as it was dark out to conserve energy if I did not catch anything, and then a flag went up telling me that just maybe dinner was on the other end.
When I reached the tip up the gator was running and I knew that at least I was going to have a chance at dinner. After a solid fight I had two chances at pulling my supper out of the hole and both times it slithered back down below the ice.
I kind of told myself to pull my head out of my u know what and on the 3rd try a beautiful 26-inch northern pike was flopping on the ice.
I already had a fire going and within minutes I had filleted my catch, y boned it and had it cooking over a campfire.
I also melted snow in a pan, which tasted terrible, as I believe there must have been too many meals cooked in it over the years. I drank water because I had to, but had to pinch my nose with every sip so I could not taste it.
The northern pike provided so much meat that I felt like a glutten and then I had a brainstorm and that was I would sleep inside of my Otter Sled. It is six-feet long and was mighty comfy, especially with my pup Fire lying beside me.
The next day I fished for 7-hours and did not catch a fish. I was so hungry that I stopped to eat in LaCrosse and then again in Tomah an hour later.
I really enjoyed this challenge and think I should do more in the future and could also go the hunting route.
The next time someone you know thinks it’s a ton of work to get off their recliner to get the remote that is 5-feet away and the real work out is going into the kitchen to get a bag of chips, read this story and realize that here in America we have it made.
Challenge yourself! Sunset
THIS WEEK’S COLUMN IS SPONSORED BY: Hiawatha National Bank