ON MILLE LACS LAKE, Minn. -- When Griz first ice-fished on Mille Lacs, he was 3 years old, and his mother and father drove with him to the lake from their home in St Paul.
Back then, in the late 1940s, they were on the ice by 6:45 in the morning. When fishing was good, as it often was, they were en route back to St. Paul by 8:30. Eight walleyes apiece was the limit, and in the car would be three times that amount, 24 fish.
Griz is Dick Grzywinski, a fishing guide presently humbled before the federal government in his attempt to become a Coast Guard-approved fishing guide.
Griz has guided for about 55 years. But these days, he doesn't guide. Instead, he passes his days attempting to secure his Coast Guard license. He learns CPR. He submits himself to a physical examination. Or an eye exam, or a drug test.
Also he studies how to navigate Long Island Sound, even though in summer he only fishes the Mississippi River near his St. Paul home.
Griz called on a recent Tuesday night.
"I caught my limit of walleyes today in 5 minutes," he said. "You better get up here."
Griz fishes out of Terry's Boat Harbor on Mille Lacs, and would be sleeping there, he said, in a back room, waiting for me to come fishing.
"Don't bring nothin'," Griz said. "I got everything."
Griz was referring to a bucket, a rod, a reel, line on the reel, a handful of JR spoons and Rapala Jigging Shad Raps, and a couple of flashers.
He would have no rental house in which to fish. No portable house in which to sit. Just a bucket.
No hat, either. Griz doesn't wear a hat on the ice.
"Never have," he said.
The next morning, I drove to Mille Lacs. When I arrived, I caught a ride onto the ice with Terry Thurmer, owner of Terry's Boat Harbor. He knew where Griz was fishing.
"I've already got $6,000 in fuel tied up plowing ice roads this winter," Terry said. His roads lead to Curly's Flat, Seguchi Flat, Sherman's Flat, 7 Mile Flat, 8 Mile Flat, even 9 Mile Flat.
The roads are as wide as football fields are long. Otherwise they would drift in with snow.
We found Griz was on his bucket, no hat, jigging.
"You're a day late," he said.
The wind had shifted and now blew from the east. Also the barometer had dropped.
Griz had a few perch on the ice. But no walleyes.
"The lake shut down," he said. "Yesterday I got those four walleyes right away. I caught 24 in all. Not today."
Long ago, when Griz fished Mille Lacs with his parents, they carried minnows in metal buckets and used golden shiners for bait.
"We didn't have an auger, of course," Griz said. "We used a chisel. Now it's easier."
Jack Morris, the retired Minnesota Twins pitcher, is a fishing buddy of Griz's. After watching Griz sit on his bucket on the open ice with no hat, Morris gave Griz a one-person Fish Trap, a portable shelter.
The Fish Trap was in the back of Griz's pickup, unused.
"I like sitting out here," Griz said.
I found a hole near Griz's and sat on a bucket of my own. Baiting a JR Spoon with a minnow head, I lowered it to the bottom, watching, as I did, the lure appear on the flasher, an older model Vexilar, an FL-8.
"That flasher is good, but this new model, it doesn't catch snow in the dial like the older models do when the wind blows," Griz said.
"If you were inside a shelter," I said, "out of the wind and snow, that wouldn't be a problem."
"I like sitting out here," Griz said.
For 30 years, Griz guided winter anglers on Mille Lacs. Tip-ups might catch a fish or two, he will tell you. But if you want to catch good numbers of walleyes, you have to jig.
"Keep your lure about a foot off the bottom" he said. "And keep jigging."
On the flashers, Griz and I could see fish rise to stare at our baits. But we couldn't make them bite.
Time passed, and I trudged across the snow and ice to the nearest fish house, a mile or so away. This was a rental outfit of Terry's, and a couple of rigs were parked outside.
Inside were Ray Macheledt, Dennis Hale, Mark Utecht and his dad, Len Utecht.
"We turkey hunt together and we deer hunt together," Ray said. "And we get together to fish Mille Lacs at least once a year."
They would sleep on the ice, in the rental house.
"We have one walleye, so far," Len said.
While I was gone, Griz hooked a big walleye but lost it.
Returning, I pulled a bucket alongside a newly augered hole, and jigged. We jigged a good long while but added only perch to our catch.
Meanwhile, a couple of miles away, Alvin Fussy of Little Falls and his son, Todd, of Brainerd jigged for walleyes in their neat two-man fish house. Todd gets off work each afternoon at 3 and hasn't missed a day on the ice since before New Year's.
The father-and-son angling duo had a mess of perch and four keeper walleyes.
"It's not as good as yesterday," Todd said.
"No, it's not," Griz said.
Shadows grew long on the ice as the sun fell toward the distant horizon.
Griz would stay and fish Mille Lacs yet another day, Thursday. But he wasn't yet giving up on this day.
Soon, he augered another hole, this one nearer to the Fussys' warm house.
The brisk wind tumbled from the east. Griz still had no hat, and only one hand was gloved.
Near sunset, a big walleye crunched Griz's bait, a fish that would measure nearly 28 inches when pulled through the ice.
The walleye was released.
Soon, Griz followed his truck's headlights toward shore, another day on the Mille Lacs ice behind him.