Sam Ringstad isn’t surprised that nobody else has shown up on Lakeville’s Lake Marion as he and his fishing buddy trek toward their 4-by-5 plywood paradise. It is, after all, 15 degrees below zero on this late January morning and the two men are about to step into a shack dominated by a hole big enough for both men to fall into. Then they’ll close the door and sit in the dark for a few hours, holding heavy metal spears.
“My buddies think it’s ridiculous,” Sam says with a laugh. “But it’s definitely a ball.”
Sam has been hooked on darkhouse spearfishing for about a dozen years, thanks to family friend Bill Vogel. More than 65 years separate Sam, 25, and Bill, 91, but on mornings like this, they’re just friends pursuing a shared passion.
“You can’t find a nicer young guy than Sam,” Bill says. “A lot of the time when you get older, younger people lose interest in you. He and I hit it off from the very beginning.”
“We just love to go out,” Sam adds. “We talk a lot,” mostly about sports.
And they wait a lot, for the big predator — the northern pike — to appear. It’s the only fish Minnesotans are allowed to spear.
“There’s excitement in seeing one come through the hole,” Bill says. “Sometimes, they come through like a flash. Sometimes, they tantalize you, moving real nice and slow.”
The two venture out nearly every weekend from December through late February. They spend two or three hours sitting and waiting, as their shiny decoys sway with the water. Every hour or so, they crack open the door to bring in fresh air. It’s not unusual for weeks to pass without a successful connection between spear and fish. But then it happens.
“They’re darn good,” Bill says of eating northerns, “but they have a lot of bones in them.”
Sam attended Prior Lake High School and Augsburg College, where he majored in accounting and finance and now works in banking. He is engaged to be married this year.
Bill, married for 63 years and a great-grandfather, remembers when Sam was born. Sam’s dad, Dan Ringstad, is senior vice president at New Market Bank where Bill, the former president, sits on the board of directors. The oldest baseball player in Minnesota, Bill coached Sam in Little League and golfs with him, too.
Sam had never heard of spearfishing but was game to try, mostly because Bill was suggesting it. They move their shack from lake to lake, staying in the south metro area. A few years ago, their unadorned spearhouse on Prior Lake won an award for being the “cutest.” There’s little cute about this morning, though.
“My feet are sticking to the ice,” Sam says as he scoops ice from the fishing hole with an oversized ladle.
The two adventurers decide to pack it up and return when the temps reach at least zero. Sam will be ready, whenever Bill is.
“He’s so humble,” Sam says of his fishing partner. “I’ve always looked up to him. I can’t wait for retirement, to be just like Bill.”