SLEEPY EYE - In Minnesota ice fishing is usually passed down through the generations or is an acquired taste; sometimes both.
For Sleepy Eye's Dale Bloemke, ice fishing is something he has steadily grown to enjoy and it has become a bonding experience for he and 10-year old son Matthew.
But, unlike most anglers, it wasn't something he grew up doing.
Dale (left) and Matthew Bloemke of Sleepy Eye fish in their portable fish house on Sleepy Eye Lake.
"I wasn't a big fisherman growing up," he said. "I really didn't start getting into it until a couple of years ago. We have some friends that ice fish, we went out with them a few times and I really started to enjoy it."
Their friends like many anglers on Sleepy Eye Lake use a fish house with all the amenities you would have at home.
"They have all kinds of things in there," Dale said. "They have six holes in the floor to fish out of, they have TV and even a kitchenette that they could fry up the fish they catch right there."
But Dale and Matthew prefer a more purist approach. Instead of a lavish ice house, they have a fishing tent with captain chairs that can compact down into a sled for easy transportation. All of their supplies fit in it and store nicely in the back of their Suburban.
"I like it this way because we can transport it easily and we can keep everything in the sled for the most part," Dale said. "It's also nice to be able to move it from one spot to another."
The tent might not have the amenities of the fish house but it's nice and does the job it's needed for.
"It works great," Dale said. "Unless it's windy."
Then it can turn into a big sail and makes fishing rather difficult.
On this day, the temperature outside the tent was slightly above zero but was nice and warm inside thanks to a portable heater.
"It's amazing how warm you can stay inside, when you stay out of the wind," Dale added.
The ice was a couple feet thick which is understandable with the amount of days below freezing there has been this season, which made Dale's automatic ice auger well appreciated.
"The manual ice auger is fine early in the season," he said. "We used one in December on Lake Hanska but it's a lot of work to get through this thick of ice with manual auger."
After the holes are drilled and the tent is set up it was time for the fishing to commence.
The father and son team have a Vexilar, which is a sonar system that shows where fish are below the surface. They also use an underwater camera to see what's going on down below.
"I like the camera," Matthew said. "But it can be really frustrating. You see them staring at the bait and they just don't bite."
When asked if he thought using extra equipment was cheating, Matthew said, "no, it just gives you a little advantage. It's not cheating."
They elected not to use the camera this time but the Vexilar was put to good use.
Wax worms were the bait of choice and it seemed to work well for the duo. Dale said that sometimes he will use minnows but they stuck with wax worms this time.
Dale baits their hooks and they start fishing. Dale readily admits that Matthew is the better fisherman, "he has been fishing a greater percentage of his life," Dale quips. "He always seems to catch the most fish when we go out."
But this day it was Dad who was having all the luck.
Dale was making a haul in undersized sunfish, while Matthew had more of a variety. He brought in a couple decent-sized crappies and two small perch. All were released back into the lake.
After Dale brought in his dozenth or so fish, Matthew had enough and pulled the Vexilar out of dad's fishing hole and put it in his own.
"The leader doesn't get the Vexilar dad," Matthew insisted.
And Dale responded, "If I keep catching fish without it, what are you going to take away from me next? Bait?"
"Don't get smart with me dad," was Matthew's answer.
Fishing over a hole on a frozen lake has become a bonding experience for father and son through the winter. But does mom ever come out and join the fun?
"She says she doesn't like the cold," Matthew said.
"She likes it better when we are out of the house I think," Dale added. "She says she gets a lot more done that way."