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Ice fishing: A grandfather’s legacy

Melissa Demulling-Konsela shares her grandfather’s legacy with her daughter Natalie on Cedar Lake. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)

“I grew up ice fishing with my grandpa, Don Demulling,” Melissa Demulling-Konsela said. “I’m not sure how old I was when I started, but I remember back to being a little kid and running around with a sled on the ice having fun. Grandma, Helen Demulling, would always pack us a cold lunch and hot chocolate in a thermos, and then we would head to the store for bait and drive up north to our fishing spot.”

Ice fishing with all of its technology and science is still, for most folks, about ritual and tradition, hot chocolate and “driving up north to our fishing spot,” as Demulling-Konsela remembers.

Everything about a fishing adventure for a child becomes special because of the person he or she makes that memory with. It is an intimate time spent weaving a story in a theater as big and wild as their senses can imagine. The smallest details are woven into memories that become part of who we are. They educate us as to what is important and provide us with examples of how to teach our children, how to hand down our values. That education strengthens the bonds of family and friendship and for fishermen and hunters, makes sacred the resources that fuel these time honored traditions.

“When we went fishing, my grandpa would do all of the work and let me do the fun part of catching the fish. We always fished with tip ups and grandpa taught me how to put the minnow on the hook the right way and cover the hole with a circle of carpet that he cut out so it wouldn’t freeze up. He had great advice about setting the tip up the right way so the wind wouldn’t blow it and we wouldn’t get a false flag. When we had a flag, I would get so excited and run to get it. You never knew what you were going to catch either, so it was fun to see just how big it was and what kind of fish you had caught. Grandpa taught me to have patience and see if it was spinning before I pulled it up. I still have a hard time waiting,” Demulling-Konsela said.

There is a lot of data available to suggest that women comprise one of the fastest growing segments of the fishing and hunting markets. If you haven’t visited a sporting goods store recently, you might be surprised by the amount of fishing equipment sporting a pink finish, from line and spoons to bright pink tip ups and insulated overalls. Add warm, wind breaking, portable shelters and an opportunity to include the kids for the day and ice fishing is not a difficult sell. Complete the experience with a budget stretching, mouth watering recipe for pan fried walleye or pickled northern and making memories makes even more sense.

“Grandpa had all of the equipment we needed. He drilled the holes in the ice and filleted the fish we caught. When we got home, grandma would fry the fish for supper or pickle it. That’s when we would settle up too. We always had a bet that $1 goes to the person who caught the first fish and $1 goes to the person who caught the biggest fish. Most of the time, he let me catch the first fish, but the biggest fish was always a surprise,” Demulling-Konsela said.

Ice fishing, like most outdoor endeavors today, can become an expensive obsession. Add up the costs for an ice auger, tip ups, ice scoop, hooks and jigs, bait bucket and live bait and warm clothing and you may have missed a mortgage payment. But with the exception of the live bait, most of the equipment, if well maintained, should last a number of seasons. Share the costs with fellow fishermen and your investment begins to look more reasonable. There is a chance that if the tradition has existed in your family for a few generations, so have some of the tip ups.

“Even though I went ice fishing with my grandpa a lot, I still consider myself a rookie when it comes to the sport. I have a good friend who is ‘teaching me the tricks of the trade.’ I’ve started to use a jig in addition to tip ups. I have a lot to learn and need to buy more equipment but it can be an expensive hobby. I know there is pretty fancy equipment you can buy and some that is even ‘made for girls’ with pink but I don’t really need any of that. As long as I have the basics needed to do the job and a way to stay warm I’m good,” Demulling-Konsela said.

Demulling-Konsela recounts her memories of fishing with her grandfather with a reverence reserved for someone she cherished. He’s passed on but the memories and education live on in his granddaughter, now a mother herself.

“Grandpa had years of experience that I wish I could have soaked up. Now my daughter Natalie goes fishing with me and I want her to learn to enjoy the outdoors too,” Demulling-Konsela said. “It’s so much fun to watch her when she sees a flag go up or has that tug on her line. She get’s excited just like her mom, and now I’m the one telling her to have patience so she can catch the fish. Ice fishing is a great activity both for families to spend time together and for friends to hang out and get away from the hustle and bustle of life. Male or female, you can enjoy time on the ice and share your fishing stories with others about the big one that got away.”