By Nick Simonson
‘Twas the night before first ice, and all through the lake,
Not a fish had been stirring, not even a splake.
The buckets were filled with my rods and my tackle,
In hopes that the perch would like jigs trimmed with hackle.
The tip-ups were strung with nylon and leaders,
To deal with the teeth of big predator feeders.
The minnows were purchased and set on the steps,
The Vexilar charged to read various depths.
When out under the ice there arose such a clatter,
I sprang into my coveralls to assess the matter.
In the dark to the pickup I flew like a flash,
And drove to the station to fill the auger with gas.
The full moon on the breast of the new-frozen water,
Meant the ice-season action could not get much hotter.
Alone toward the lake I started to steer,
Soon the roar of the auger was all I could hear.
Setting tip-ups and jigging on the ice all around,
Searching for fish like a veteran bloodhound.
More rapid than lightning to my baits they came,
I hooted and hollered and called them by name.
Now, NORTHERN, now WALLEYE, now BLUEGILL and CRAPPIE!
Come, RAINBOW and YELLOW PERCH and you don’t have to stop-pie!
To the treble of tip-up, to the jig or the spoon!
Now bite good and hard and I’ll be here past noon!
The excitement, the passion, the fins and the tails,
Impossible to measure with rulers and scales.
The colors of fishes of varying size,
The wonder of nature that lit up my eyes.
And then, in an instant, I set the hook hard,
I looked down and saw her – she must measure a yard!
In gold and silver and tipped with white,
She promised to battle me into the night.
Rolling and twisting with her strength she did brag,
As from my reel she pulled on the drag.
I cranked and it squealed as her head neared the hole,
Grabbing her quickly, I achieved my goal.
Her eyes – twinkling silver, her gills how they flared,
Sharp curved white teeth, her pointy mouth bared.
I unhooked the spoon with a twist of my plier,
And gazed at a walleye anyone would admire.
Better suited she was for story than plate,
Watching her swim away, I had to feel great.
To let free such a whopper to catch one day again,
Is a thing that is done by the greatest sportsmen.
In the picture I took she was preserved for all,
And the photo was enough for me to hang on the wall.
The sun was then setting, and the day felt complete,
To the truck I went packing with snow at my feet.
Though cold all around and night beginning to fall,
I was warmed with a memory that could top them all.
As I drove away, the lake leaving my sight,
I thought long and hard of that day and that night.
And the next time I’m burdened with everyday chores,
I’ll look back on this time, spent in…our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Originally written shortly after midnight on a cold December night while working the front desk at the Prairie Inn motel in Valley City, ‘Twas the Night Before First Ice has become an outdoors holiday staple. Happy Holidays to you and yours from me and all of us in Our Outdoors.