AS WE GET ready to welcome Old Man Winter, we can be thankful we don’t ginny-fishing1live in Northern Minnesota. Or can we? We might just be missing a heck of a lot of fun in the form of a sport called ice-fishing.

On the surface, the idea sounds kind of wacky — fishing on ice in the dead of winter. But then a 10-pound walleye tugs at your line, and things get hot in a hurry. Or did someone just turn up the thermostat?

That’s right. Ice fishing has evolved from the days when folks sat on stools with wool mufflers wrapped around their necks and transistor radios by their sides.

Today’s anglers can sit back in only a T-shirt, watch television and even sleep in a real bed in a tricked-out ice-fishing house called the SnoBear. Just push the button and the SnoBear hydraulically lowers to the ice with six holes for fishing.

Add to that the thermostatically controlled propane furnace, stereo/CD player, built-in underwater camera and other fish-finding electronics, and you have the latest in fish-house technology.

Not everyone has a fancy fish house like this, but most huts are pretty comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that anglers spend days — even weeks — out on the ice.

Across Minnesota’s frozen lakes you’ll see encampments, where flannel-clad villagers share steaming pots of chili and elect seasonal mayors. They drink beer, play cribbage and watch their bobbers pop merrily in the little circles of water cut out of the ice.For 18 years, the Brainerd Lakes Jaycees have awarded the world’s largest cash prizes at their Ice Fishing Extravaganza. A cannon signals the start of competition, which usually is held on massive Gull Lake. For three hours, anglers from all over the world drop their lines in the icy waters of their own, pre-drilled holes.

Men, women and children all compete in this open-air event, where fish houses are banned and only live fish may be weighed and measured.

It’s a scene out of “Grumpy Old Men,” with folks wearing everything from screaming orange hunting jackets to fur-lined hats with animal tails. And that’s just the women.

They all dream of catching that legendary fish that every Minnesota lake seems to contain. In Gull Lake it’s “Jingles,” a fish that has so many hooks and spinners hanging off her that when she swims by you can hear the ting, ting, ting.

Sounds like a Minnesota fish tale to me.


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