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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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January 17, 2020

1/11/2020 7:30:00 AM
Natural Reaction
High hopes on the ice
Jacob Friede
Of The Lakeland Times

I was on the ice a few weeks ago and conditions were as expected.

There was well over a foot of snow, followed by a few inches of slush, and then about 7 inches of ice, which I was comfortable with.

I was on foot, traveling fairly light, dragging a sled with a bucket of tip-ups, a bucket of bait, a Vexilar, a mini-heater, my auger, and an old pop-up turkey blind I sometimes use as an ice fishing tent. It's ripped to heck but performs like a champion in low wind when all you need for warmth is to be out of the breeze.

Most of the way across the bay it was easy walking thanks to frozen paths of other fishermen.

It was a cold day and there were few anglers out. Some were sitting on buckets, jigging for panfish in the open air, while others were huddled in tents, only emerging to chase down flags.

I gave myself ample space and set up my tip-ups and from then on everything else disappeared.

There is no mental zone quite like the one you enter when watching for tip-up flags. The trance is as indestructible as Beaver Dam tip-ups themselves. No matter the conditions, you can't take your eyes off them. Through snow and cold you're locked on constant watch for a flag to be flying vertical.

And once attention is placed on that, there is not much left for anything else.

Reflections on life's great triumphs and tragedies, even trivial daydreams, have no chance of holding my attention when there are tip-ups set up.

Because every three seconds, no matter what's on the mind, a hopeful glance interrupts.

Tip-up fishing is an endless series of checking for a change of luck, and on days like the one I was having, it can be an endless series of disappointments.

Yet it doesn't matter. There's an optimism with tip-ups that pulls you through.

For hours I sat there on the moonscape of the snow-covered lake, scanning my triangle of traps. Time moved slow enough to notice each subtle change in the twilight's fading light, and no matter how often I looked to see that the flags were still lying down, my hopes were undeterred. I was assured the next moment could and would bring success.

And then it happened. I finally looked over at the tip-ups, for the billionth time that day, and noticed a red flag flying high.

The sight, as always, was glorious.

I trudged over with peak optimism and knelt down to check the line.


The fish had taken some line but had dropped the bait. But I was not bummed out.

Hope was instantly refueled for another couple of hours, which were spent much like the first few, perpetually staring at un-tripped flags lying still on the ice.

Tip-up fishing can be a long day, but when locked in the proper perspective, the fish are never not biting, they're always just about to.

Jacob Friede may be reached at or

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