The outdoors has always been a huge part of my life. My father and maternal grandfather were probably my biggest influences. No matter the time of year, there was always something to hunt or fish. I've never lost that desire. It keeps me going today. It keeps me sane, because I need to be outdoors. Even in the dead of winter.
I've always been drawn to water, either fishing or duck hunting. I've done my share of hunting pheasants, grouse and deer. My first memory of hunting was with my father. We were hunting pheasants. I was too young to carry a gun, but I'd tag along and be that extra driver — that extra bird dog with two legs, you could say. This was true one-on-one time with my father, which I coveted as a young boy. During those times afield, he was my hero.
My favorite type of hunting is duck hunting. It just suits me the best. I enjoy everything about it. The rush of a flock of mallards or teal setting their wings into the decoys. The gazing at stars on a clear predawn morning. The ability to chat with friends about life in general during the lulls. The work of a well-trained dog. When everything goes right, it seems downright magical! Dogs are such wonderful partners in the field. There's nothing like having a Lab with a good nose to retrieve a duck that I probably wouldn't be able to find on my own. I hate losing birds. Makes me feel sick inside. For me, it's pure pleasure to see all that training come together. It's such a rush. And what's the best part? My dogs love it, too.
Being in the outdoors has taught me a lot about patience and persistence. Take fishing, for example. My dad fished some, but my real influence came from my grandfather Hank. He and grandma lived out in Hutchinson. During summer vacations I spent a good chunk of my time there. We'd get up at 5 a.m. and head for a spot on the Crow River, where we'd pitch red-and-white Daredevils for northerns for three or four hours at a time. We went home empty-handed a lot, but we kept doing it. That taught me patience and being persistent — two ingredients you need as a sportsman.
I love fishing. And no matter the time of year, either. Well, except in the heat and humidity of August. I hate the hot, and love the winter. I love cold weather. I love fresh, crisp air. Anything more than 70 degrees is a wasted day in my book, usually because of the humidity. I hate it!
I look forward to first ice, and I look forward to ice-out. It's that in-between time that really drives me nuts. Sitting at home for more than one weekend is maddening. I try to do projects around the house, but I'd rather be out on the water, fishing or hunting.
I prefer fishing through the ice, despite the fact that I'm just looking into a hole or two. I love the freedom to move about on the hard water. Sure, you can move around in a boat. But you're really confined in that tiny space — stumbling over gear, dogs or even people.
If I can, I stay out in the open and not in a fish house. That can present a few problems, like your gear occasionally freezing up in extreme conditions. As for me, I've never had a fear of throwing on an extra layer of clothes. It takes a lot to get me cold. When the fishing is slow, my two mutts and I can get in a game of Frisbee. It's a blast. It keeps the blood flowing, too.
A few years ago, I started writing about my winter exploits on Facebook. I referred to them collectively as "Beach Season." I got a little tired of my Facebook friends complaining right after Labor Day about the impending doom of winter, then bragging about their upcoming vacations to warmer climes. I kind of took it personally. What are my friends complaining about? There's plenty to do in Minnesota's winter wonderland! If not ice fishing, why not skiing or snowmobiling? Why let winter defeat you? My original intent was to have my friends think back to their childhood, playing in the outdoors during winter. This was usually met with some disparaging remarks, but it's all in good fun and their remarks haven't fazed me a bit. My mission is to show my friends you don't have to be holed up in your house for six months at a time. Winter is fun. Get outside and enjoy it. You just have to dress the part.