ELEPHANT LAKE, MINN. - Carla Koch chuckles when she looks at the skillet-sized bluegill hanging on the wall of the Cedar Inn, a cozy bar and lodge 250 miles north of the Twin Cities near Orr. The place has been in her family for three-quarters of a century now, ever since her Polish immigrant grandfather, Frank Melgeorge, converted an old logging camp into cabins in 1937.
Forty years later, the placid waters of Elephant Lake froze quickly the weekend after Thanksgiving, 1987.
"It looked like glass," she recalls.
So she laced up her skates and glided over the smooth surface. That's when she saw the enormous bluegill.
"I think it was either dying of old age or shock from the quick freeze," she says. "It floated up to the bottom surface of the ice and lay there, barely alive."
Koch (rhymes with pluck) did what any third-generation North Woods resort kid would do.
"I ran inside and grabbed an ax and chipped it out," she says. "No need for an auger."
She's lived on the shores of Elephant Lake since she was 3 and her parents moved from Hibbing to take over Melgeorge's Resort. In the mid-'80s, her dad, Ted, built the Cedar Inn, which has rooms upstairs, growing the 10-cabin business.
"I remember the long winter months before the restaurant," Koch says. "My sister and me would sit in the snowbanks, saying, 'There's nobody here.'"
She met her husband, rhythm-guitar-playing Steve Koch, when his heavy-metal band played a gig at the inn during the '90s. They bought out her parents in 2006 and have since sold off the cabins to her folks' longtime visitors in a time-share setup she calls a "common-interest community."
Her family lives a half-mile north, but runs the place like it always has, serving up juicy Elephant burgers. With four kids -- Matthew, Emily (pictured above with mom and the famous fish), Daniel and Grace -- growing up on the resort, is the fourth generation destined to take over Melgeorge's someday?
"Absolutely not," says Matthew, 15.
Despite all the work, 11-year-old Daniel is reportedly considering it. In the meantime, 13-year-old Emily says the school van needed to slow down one morning this winter: A bull moose was meandering down the road. They often see fox and fresh wolf kills around the property. And they've turned up plenty of bottles and an ax head from some of the 130 logging camps that once punctuated these remote woods.