A bone chilling ice-fog covered the lake as we began drilling holes and setting up the tip-ups. The temperature hovered in the low teens and we hoped the sun would soon break through the mist, but most of all we prayed there would be no wind.
An hour later, each of the two dozen holes, drilled through 30 inches of ice held a worm dangling tip-up, set in hopes of enticing a hungry rainbow trout cruising around in the water below. Shortly after the sun broke out, but before we could sit in our collapsible chairs to wait and watch while soaking up some rays, Tom yelled, “Flag,” signaling a tip-up had been tripped by trout that was striping line off the reel and swimming away beneath our feet.
It turned into a picture perfect day with enough action to make us happy; a few trout were lost, more than a few were landed, and a really nice one broke the line right at the hole, eliciting a moan from the gang and confirming once again that it’s always the big one that gets away.
At one point, I watched Tom hauling line hand over hand as he pulled a fish closer to the hole, when his body gave that unmistakable twitch, signaling a lost fish. Then without warning, the freed trout jumped two feet into the air-right out of the hole-and landed flopping next to my astonished friend! The rest of us, watching in disbelief, let out a wild hoot. The trout, apparently too large to turn around in the small diameter hole, panicked and simply swam as hard as it could forward, right into the air and onto the ice. None of us had ever seen anything like it.
But the best of the day was yet to come. With dozens of anglers on the lake attending their rods and tip-ups, we looked up and spied two men walking toward us. They obviously weren’t from around our neck of the woods. One wore a faux possum fur hat complete with a visor that no Montanan would be caught dead wearing and the other an outfit reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live sketch. Think Chevy Chase going ice-fishing. I suspect they were in their late forties or early fifties, denizens of a far off and foreign ice-free land: Los Angles or Phoenix perhaps.
As they approached us, a flag went off a 100 feet from where we were standing. Bradley and I took off running; Brad reaching the hole first, pulled the tip-up out, grabbed the line, and feeling the strong tug on the other end said, “Big fish.” Hand over hand it came toward us. As he brought it through the hole, I reached-in and flipped a fat 22 inch, nearly four pound rainbow, the best of the day, onto the ice. The two men, now standing next to us, shouted their congratulations. Then very excitedly one said, “I’ve never walked on ice before today, I’ve never seen ice-fishermen, except in the movies, and now I’ve actually seen a fish caught through the ice, this is incredible!”
Then with a childlike smile of wonderment on his face, the middle-aged man looked right at me and said, “This is the best day of my life!”
Who was I to argue with him? After all, a magical creature had just appeared from an alien world beneath our feet through a hole in the ice, and if that isn’t just the best, I don’t know what is.