It’s 4 a.m. outside our fishing shanty. It’s about 14 degrees, and dead calm. Inside the shack, it’s about 80 degrees, and the conversation is lively. This past weekend was the annual Wolf Lake Fisheree; it’s been a tradition for one of my good friends, Randy Gerner, and I to catch up and compete. This year, we are accompanied by Randy’s buddy Dusty. We hit the ice around midnight. Randy and Dusty had pulled the shack out onto the lake earlier Friday and had holes already cut. We only had 12 hours to catch as many and as large of fish as possible. At noon on Saturday, the contest ends.
Our conversation is a mix of politics, local issues, fishing and debates about past events. Stories ramble on as we are in no hurry to get anywhere, and the fish don’t seem to mind. As the sun peaks at around 6 a.m., we debate our next move. Breakfast is venison summer sausage, cheese, chips and coffee. With the increase in sunlight, more fisherman are on the ice, and the puttering and rasp of ice augers harken the dawn.
Randy spots some friends from work as we step out of the shanty, and we stroll on over. Their report is the same as ours: no fish, no bites, no worries. A short jab session takes place, and we head back to our shack and load up. The shanty is about 8 feet by 8 feet and 6 ½ feet tall. It has metal siding, and to some, it might look like a very mini mobile home. We muscle it onto the four-wheeler and head for a different area of the lake.
A new spot and a new set of holes take only a minute to establish. The ice is 10-12 inches thick, and all over the lake, full-size trucks are driving. Randy and I look at each other, shake our heads and mutter, “You never trust the ice.” In the new spot, his Humminbird Fish Finder drops in a hole, and we look at the depth: 2.8 feet. We burst out laughing and look at each other, as if saying to ourselves, “A bit shallow for my taste.”
Another new spot, and we are in deeper water—28 feet—and down our lines go. Dusty stayed another hour or two and then had to head out. Randy and I maneuver about the lake and finally settle around 10:30 at a deep spot around 40 feet deep. We mark plenty of fish and decide this is it. Our conversation floats and meanders as always. It’s a sharp contrast to my usual surgical PA day. The flurry of OR activity, pages from the floor and a steady stream of patients make time a premium. The only thing premium here is the beer.
Randy lights a cigarette, and I remind him it’s not healthy. He points at my recently lit cigar and tells me to calm down. “Every once and a while I can have a cigar,” I tell him. “It’s that daily smoking that will kill you.”
And I tell him about vascular surgery and how bad smoking can damage your vessels. He nods and says he’ll cut back. As we sit and fish, and talk and joke, I think about the previous week and the patients I had cared for—some with good outcomes, others struggling to recover. But on this day, I can set it all aside and enjoy my time on the ice. With polka music playing softly in the background, we enjoy the moment and comradery.
Folks stop in for a libation and inform us that a northern pike has yet again won the contest. So be it. At 12:30, thirty minutes after the fisheree ended, my jig poles dart down. Fish on! I reel up a medium-size yellow perch. Ten minutes later, a similar incident, and at 1:15, a bluegill. Somewhere in there, Randy pulls in a perch and bluegill of his own.
Randy, a machinist, and I grew up in similar ways, but have taken different paths. Neither is better or more glorious than the other … but on that frozen lake, we are equals … and that is what matters. Whatever you do that anchors you and reminds you of where you’ve come from, share it, and may it always bring you solace.
John W. (JJ) Jenkins, PA-C, is a PA in general and vascular surgery at BayCare Clinic in Green Bay, Wis. He is a graduate of Carroll University’s PA program and a former Army medic.
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