GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Twin Cities author Greg Breining made a swing across northwestern Minnesota last week reading excerpts from his 2008 book, "A Hard-Water World: Ice Fishing and Why We Do It."
A news release promoting Breining's book readings in the area didn't hit my inbox in time for me to attend. But the announcement triggered a column idea and made me wonder:
Just why do we do ice fish, anyway?
The answer, I suspect, varies with everyone who ventures out on frozen water.
In my case, at least, catching fish is part of it, but the attraction runs a lot deeper. And it's not necessarily easy to explain.
The reasons certainly defied logic one morning in early January, when I stepped outside in the predawn darkness while staying at a friend's house north of Winnipeg.
We were going to fish "greenback" walleyes on the Red River, and the air temperature had dipped to nearly 40 below zero.
While I was loading some gear into the truck, a neighbor stopped by to drop off the day's edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. He looked at us and paused for a moment as if deciding whether to say anything.
Curiosity finally got the best of him.
"Pardon my French," he said, "but what the (heck) are you doing out here on a morning like this?"
"Going ice fishing," we replied, as if it was the most sensible answer in the world.
No doubt, the reason for venturing out on such a frigid morning had a lot to do with the Red River's potential for kicking out trophy walleyes. Few places offer a better shot at a 10-plus-pound walleye than the Manitoba side of the Red or Lake Winnipeg, the massive body of water that picks up where the river leaves off.
The anticipation of what could happen was enough to lure us into the bone-chilling cold.
There's also something cathartic, perhaps even hypnotic, about ice fishing, especially when huddled in a portable house: The comforting hiss of the propane heater, the relaxing drone of the depth finder -- in my case, a Vexilar FL-18 flasher -- the thrill of seeing a red blip come in on the screen and watching it rise toward the bait.
I'm also drawn to the way light reflects through a hole in the ice, how it illuminates the rings where the blade of the auger chewed through the frozen water. Ice fishing clears my mind -- something all of us need to do from time to time, I think -- in a way few pastimes can.
Staring down that 8-inch window into another world, I often catch myself thinking about absolutely nothing.
Few other things, in my experience, have the ability to do that.
Other times, I'll wonder what's down there, especially when a bobber dips below the waterline and disappears from sight. I've watched hundreds of bobbers sink over the years, and the attraction never gets old. If it bobs and dances and barely dips, there might be a perch at the other end; if it makes a quick pop, stops and then resumes with a slow descent, chances are good there'll soon be a walleye in the bucket.
And fresh fish in the frying pan later that night, perhaps shared among friends and washed down with a favorite beverage while recalling the day on the ice. Maybe it's in a cabin by a lake, where life almost always is at its best.
That, too, is part of the attraction.