ON LITTLE ELK LAKE
Dan Smith sits on a little folding chair between two capped holes in the ice near Zimmerman. His big corkscrewing ice auger lies nearby. It's Saturday - time off from his wife of 35 years, Chris, and his job of 35 years, welding and grinding for Hoffman Engineering in Anoka.
He'll wait a half-hour to see if the little flags tip up on either of the manhole covers, signaling a fish on the line. If nothing bites, he'll move on, drill a couple of new holes and wait some more.
"I'll be out here til dark," he says. "I used to like to fish with a little pole, but my hands can't take it anymore. Getting too old."
He used to have a canvas fishing shack to protect him from the winter winds that can whistle across the ice. But mice chewed through it.
Smith usually brings along Coco, his 127-pound chocolate lab and fishing partner. But this winter has been so warm.
"The ice is still iffy, and I don't want him running around, falling into soft spots," he says.
Another fishing partner, his son Dan Jr., has moved up near Longville, where he ice fishes with his own kids.
"I'm sort of on my own now," Smith says.
That's because his father, a drafting engineer named Charles A. Smith, died one year and one week ago. He was 89 and came down with pneumonia on top of cancer.
"Every day when I go out fishing, I think about him and the fun we had when we were fishing."
They'd sit in Dan's Suburban, when the ice on Ann Lake was nice and thick. Play cribbage. Catch a few northerns.
"We'd be out here til sunset every night no matter what, even when it was 30-below," he says. "We caught enough to eat. One of us would take them home one night and the other would take them home the next night."
In between the fish, there was one cribbage match after another.
"He'd win all the games one night and the next day, I'd win them all. It always seem to go that way."
His father was born in the tiny southwestern Minnesota hamlet of Westbrook, population 666, but orphaned at a young age and raised by foster parents in Forest Lake. He graduated from Wisconsin-Stout with an industrial design degree, and he his late-wife, Ruby, wed 57 Februaries ago. Along with Dan, they raised four daughters, which led to a dozen grandchildren -- including Dan and Chris' two kids -- and seven great-grandchildren.
Dan chuckles remembering how slowly his Dad used to drive.
"Typical old guy for driving, usually 45 mph," Dan says. "One day, he'd gone to play cards at the senior center and I saw him driving home going 80. I went to pick him up at the house and he was standing out by the end of the road by the mailbox with his fishing gear, waiting for me to pick him up."
He smiles as an icy breeze howls across the frozen lake, kicking up a few snowflakes.