The sun dipped under the tree line, silhouetting the bare branches of the aspen stand and casting its finger-like shadows across the snow-covered surface of the small rocky lake in northeastern Minnesota where I made my final efforts of this year’s ice fishing season. With the snow line just sixty miles south of my position, the fast approaching spring was held at bay by the tight grip that winter still had on the far northern reaches of the state. And with winter’s last stand came one more chance at walleyes through the ice at dusk on the small, familiar rocky point where I had watched a number of winter sunsets come and go.
Set up and awaiting that very moment, the foam bobber to my left twitched nervously, conveying the edginess of the minnow tethered below as the witching hour settled in. Next to the suspended offering, I pumped and shook a small rattle spoon tipped with a minnow head, sending out both a sonic and savory message to approaching predators that there was some dinner to be had this evening. I ripped the spoon up and saw the bottom give way behind it. A large red line quickly followed my lure up the screen on my Vexilar and it paused momentarily below my offering.
There are a number of moments in the outdoors that turn a mater of milliseconds into an eternity as we wait with anticipation for what we hope will come next. I found myself frozen in time. The southern breezes seemed to stop, the chill of late winter faded, my breath hung still in the air, condensing into a cloud before me. If there were mosquitoes in winter, my guess is their wings would have stopped beating for just that moment.
It was one of those instants, like standing behind a dog on a hard point before a pheasant flushes, or those uncertain seconds where a deer decides whether or not to break its statuesque stance and wander down the path we’ve chosen to patrol. Like those occurrences, it was of those occasions where I felt both on pause while also whirring at 90 miles per hour.
The rushing pulse fueled by adrenaline thundering in the ears, a steadiness in the world around our racing minds and nervous, twitching hands are just a few of the physical impacts that such a situation causes. Mentally, it becomes a battle of will, deciding what to do next in the pattern that has paid off in the past, or what one could do to prevent a repeat of previous missteps in those situations where success was elusive. Ultimately, time seems to slow down, allowing us to live a lifetime in just a few short seconds before the space-time continuum rights itself and what was meant to occur finally happens.
With a snap of my wrist, I sent the lure rocketing up the water column. With all the speed of a coiled viper, the red line shot up after the spoon and smashed it as it reached its apex and doubled the ice rod over in my quaking hand. Adjusting the drag, I battled the fish to the surface and saw the deep gold sides of the clear-water walleye color up the crystal-white cylinder in front of me. I hoisted the three-pounder from the hole and unhooked it from the spoon, setting the fish beside me before re-baiting my hook and looking at the screen. As my lure tumbled around the circular display, the bottom shifted and a red line rose again to my falling offering providing yet another chance to put the world on pause and experience the rush of being caught up in the moment…in our outdoors.