“There are four of us old guys who have gotten together annually to ski… especially at resorts that let us ski at no charge.

“But ski plans were called off in 2019 when one of the guys suffered a back injury.”

So writes Don Homuth, formerly of Fargo and now of Salem, Ore.

Ah, but he says these buddies got together last February anyway. But not to ski.

The four are Jim Iken, a retired Air Force colonel now living in Georgetown, Texas; retired airline pilot Elwood Pedersen, who lives on a small farm north of Grand Rapids, Minn.; Tom Chapin, who lives on a lake near Grand Rapids; and Don.

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Jim, although born and raised in Fargo, had never ice fished. “We felt that left him culturally deprived and decided to put it right,” Don says, “and to add something to his list of lifetime accomplishments; although ‘accomplishments’ is not the proper word; ‘ordeal,’ maybe.

“We got together in Grand Rapids; lots of lakes, lots of ice, proper winter weather. What could go wrong?

“To get the real experience, we told Jim that first he had to fish the traditional way. So we loaded up an orange plastic sled with an auger and some gear, and in the middle of a brisk wind and about 7-degree below weather, walked through foot-deep snow onto a lake north of Grand Rapids.

“We told Jim he had to dig his own hole. He was to stand by the hole with one of those ice-fishing sticks and jig a minnow down through the hole for a while.

“Well, he and we lasted not even an hour. It was cold!”

However, Don writes, “We were unencumbered by the presence of actual fish.

“But hey — this was a manly cultural ritual!”

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Down the hole

“The next day,” Don says, “we joined with some others, including Tom Chapin. He is a retired game warden from northern Minnesota who has written a couple of books on his adventures with poachers over the years.

“Tom owns what is gratuitously called an ‘ice fishing shack.’ It’s actually a self-enclosed insulated trailer, with a heater, microwave, sink, stove and even an indoor toilet. It has spaces for eight fishing holes, but we only used three, two for the lines and one for a television camera to watch the minnows doing gymnastics in the hope they would entice a fish.

“For the next 4-5 hours, we did a lot of smart talking, made and ate lunch, and just generally enjoyed the company of six old guys in a modern trailer that had no resemblance to a ‘shack’ as we all remembered them. And we were again unbothered by the presence of actual fish. One small northern snapped at Jim’s bait, but spooked for some reason. Right up until the end, we didn’t see any others.

“As things were drawing down,” Don continues, “Jim put his iPhone on a counter, then somehow bumped it with his elbow. It bounced off the floor and went down the hole. Dead center.

“Deep silence followed.

“We swiveled the TV camera around and were able to see the phone on the bottom of the lake. But it might as well have been in Antarctica. No point trying to get it back.

“As we nearly finished packing, one medium northern actually photobombed the camera, but paid no attention to the bait.

“As we were leaving, we all agreed that we’d actually had a pretty good time, even if there were no fish. Perhaps we’d like to do it again?

“Chapin said that was doable, only, ‘Next time, we’ll phone ahead and make an appointment with the fish.’

“A conversation-ender if there ever was one.”

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email blind@forumcomm.com.