Not only do we have the standard fresh water fishing out of a boat, there are all the different types of ice fishing as well. There is the basic ice fishing over a hole drilled into the ice. There is my favorite- dark house fishing in which you sit in a dark house over a hole aprox 2'x4' wide with a live 'shiner' strung from the ceiling that swims around near the surface, attracting the Northern Pike (aka “Northerns”) into your field of view, so you can spear them with a spear attached to a rope. Then, there is even the old traditional way of stringing a 100' net under the ice, catching small pan fish for smoking. These are all great forms of fishing- some a bit more challenging (and freezing) than others.
On May 1st every year across the land a very special day emerges. The Sucker-Spearing Opener. This is right around the time the 'suckers' began swimming upstream to spawn. So we as kids would grab our spears, some old tennis shoes and jump into the shallow creeks (pronounced 'cricks' up there) with our spears- some that may have a chunk or two of ice attached to the banks still.
My dad had a few interesting techniques of his own. He would go upstream with a bow and arrow, literally taking shots at the fish. This definitely required a bit of skill on his part.
A favorite hiding spot for the fish was usually in deep holes that formed right under an opening of a culvert that escorted a creek under a road. That was the money spot. Often though, these holes were a bit too deep to reach with our spears. In those cases, my dad occasionally had a special technique for enticing the fish from their hiding spots. Let's just say it involved items that were leftover from an Independence Day celebration. (I could be talking about hotdog pieces here, folks. Fish could love hotdogs, I'm sure!)
One particular spring, the suckers had a great winter- and were extremely overpopulated. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, dad suddenly received the call from one of his friends that the suckers had been running like mad in the creek that ran alongside the Alder Road. The Alder Road was this fabulous country gravel road that cut across through the woods and backfields into the town of Marcell, MN (population 394). The leafy trees cascaded over the road, in a mystical tunnel of colors. Whitetail deer grazed on the clovers in the fields. Wildlife sprung all around us as our tires popped along the rocks.
When we got to the hot spot, my sisters, dad and I sprang out of the truck to meet up with all of our cousins and their dads. Everyone grabbed a spear- and the littlest kids grabbed nets. We all spread out around the banks that lined either side of the shallow creek. The fish were flowing so abundantly that our arms grew tired from the spearing and hoisting them up onto the banks.
As I threw another one off my spear and watched it wiggle in the grass, taking it's few last breaths of air, I suddenly felt a twinge of guilt. I couldn't think too much about the food that I ate, or I never would eat meat again. I gazed at the holes that I had left in its body where my spear had been and said to my uncle Tim standing next to me with a sigh, "I guess it's sure a good thing that fish don't have nerves."
My Uncle Tim, who was the farmer of the family, and also an avid animal lover, stared at me with an intent look on his face. Uncle Tim took over the beef farm when my grandpa passed. He loved the cattle that he butchered. It was bitter-sweet. He stay up for days on end to assist delivery of the calves in all hours of the night, and often during raging blizzards in calving season. He gave them nicknames based on their coloring or their personalities. And did some of these cows have personality!
To some it may seem hypocritical, but I grew up believing that we gave these animals a good, happy life, and when they died, it was instant and with dignity. I believed that was so much better than what would happen for them in a slaughter house.
"What do you mean, they don't have nerves?" Tim asked me, perplexed.
"They don't have nerves." I said it slower, more enunciated this time. Uncle Tim just continued to look at me as if I had two heads.
"Yeah, Dad told me they don't have nerves."
And then Tim realized what was going on. He simply nodded, and went back to his fishing. As he turned away, it finally dawned on me as well. All of this time dad had told me they didn't have nerves. I was nearly eleven now. Surely I would've realized had been simply sparing my heartache.
I dropped the spear and stepped back. All this time. All those fish. My mind raced as I began trying to come to terms with it. It was such a simple thought. Why hadn't I really realized it all of this time?
Since that day, I have dabbled in fishing a bit here or there. I always bait my own hook and try not to make a big deal about it. Mostly I go to be out on the water (as it is my happy place) and fish to satisfy those around me. But the truth is, when it comes down to it, not a fish passes me by that I catch and don't think of the pain it may feel at that moment. I didn't want to stop fishing years ago because it was my time with my dad, that made up so many of my childhood memories.
And now I believe that is why my dad never told me the truth about fish after all of those years.