Northern Tier scout adventure, part 4 from leader of Fredericksburg Troop 137
Hill Country Outdoors
Ice fishing with the Boy Scouts is nothing like the movie “Grumpy Old Men.”
In that classic comedy, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau’s characters fish over the ice in warm and comfortably furnished shanties while watching TV and boozing the day away.
Ice fishing with the Boy Scouts involves drilling a hole through the thick ice with a hand-powered auger and standing around in zerodegree temperatures all afternoon hoping against hope that something is caught before your blood glaciates. At least that’s how it’s done at Northern Tier High Adventure Camp near Ely, Minnesota.
It was the last day of Fredericksburg Troop 137’s excursion to the American - Canadian border and all of us were worn down from the previous 4 1/2 days of hiking, snowshoeing, cooking and trying not to succumb to hypothermia or frostbite. We also camped out under the open sky in negative temperatures, sledded and cross-country skied. Participating in these activities in the kind of temperatures that we did meant that each of us were burning, according to the Northern Tier staff, upwards of 6,000 calories a day.
I still don’t understand how I didn’t come back any thinner than I did.
Our last day’s plan was to hike to a frozen lake where we would enjoy our first-ever dogsled ride and try our hand at ice fishing. The hike was beautiful but strenuous given the single-digit temperatures and the depths of the snow.
We hit the shores of Blackstone Lake by noon and, after almost breaking our teeth on frozen beef sticks, cheese sticks and dried fruit during our on-the-go lunch, listened to an instructor named Cade detail the wonders and joys of ice fishing.
“Sometime you’ll go days without getting so much as a nibble,” Cade gleefully expounded. “But it’s worth it just to enjoy the beauty of nature.”
Not even the boys bought into that nonsense.
They wanted to catch something BIG and NOW.
We worked as a team to clear a section of snow then hand cranked an ancient relic of an auger through 18 inches of ice. The hole was cleared and a scout named Travis dropped a baited hook into the depths.
“What we do now?” another Scout inquired.
“We wait,” I replied.
The boys waited all of 20 minutes before giving up.
But not Travis.
He explained that he’d come to Minnesota from Texas to catch a fish and he wasn’t leaving the lake until he did so.
I understood his “Old Man and the Sea” passion for fishing and agreed to stay with him until he caught a fish. We stood staring at the fishing hole for more than an hour while the rest of the troop went skiing. I was just about to beg Travis to call it quits when his line jerked forward and unspooled.
Travis’s eyes exploded in excitement. He set the line and fought the unseen fish as if it was a deep-sea leviathan. He laughed and squealed in delight then cheered himself as he pulled a 22-inch pike from the frozen depths.
Cade wandered over to congratulate Travis and to inquire about his plans for the fish. “I’m gonna eat ’im!” Travis proudly boasted. “And everybody gets a taste!”
Cade and I looked the maybe three-pound fish over then returned our gaze to a euphoric Travis.
“Yeah, we can make that work,” I promised. “But I think the tastes will be pretty small.”
Travis didn’t care. He proudly carried his fish before him and to one of the sleds the troop had dragged to the lake. He placed it carefully in the hold then told me that he’d just experienced the best part of his entire trip.
That moment might have been mine as well. Travis and I left our future meal behind and met the boys for an introduction to dogsledding and then made our way to our cabins for our last night in the Great White North.
Young is a Fredericksburg resident, writer and avid outdoorsman. He contributes to the Standard-Radio Post, Rock & Vine magazine and other publications.