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Tradition rules this Minn. lake

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Northern pike, bass and crappie attract a lot of anglers to Minnesota lakes.
CHISAGO CITY, Minn. -- Dude, you got a tip up!
Jon Riebe yelled this piece of slang across frozen Green Lake. It had nothing to do with skiing. Or anything connected to youth culture. The command had everything to do with ice fishing, and Riebe barked the words like he was conducting a fishing fire drill.
The dude in question, John Clements, was in fact bailing out of his fish house like it was on fire.
A red flag waved in the wind not far from the fish house. The flag was connected to a contraption called a tip-up that dangled a minnow attached to a fishing line below the ice. The minnow was in the maw of a large northern pike, which was racing away from the hole.
Spindle spinning
Riebe and Clements jogged to the tip-up, where the line spindle was spinning wildly.
"Dude, he's about to spool ya," Riebe said excitedly. "Could be a big one."
Clements, 18, grabbed the fishing line and pulled in the slack to gauge how far the fish had gone. When he felt the fish's heft, he set the hook and began pulling the fish toward the hole. But the big pike had other plans. It unexpectedly swam directly back to the hole, so Clements pulled up line as fast as his hands could work.
Soon the pike was flopping on the ice. It was 10 pounds of torpedo-shaped muscle with a mouth full of needle-like teeth. Clements worked the hook out its mouth, posed for a picture and slipped the fish back down the hole.
"The biggest I've caught this year," he said breathlessly. "The biggest I've caught in a while."
In age, Riebe and Clements aren't far removed from high school, but they are old school when it comes to ice fishing. Their tip-ups are traditional Minnesota ice-fishing gear used by thousands of anglers, and their ice fishing shanty is pure 2-by-2s and plywood, unlike today's newfangled portable units.
"It's not bad for our first time," said Clements, critiquing the house's workmanship. He built it with Riebe and friend Phil Swanson, with each contributing $170 and some muscle.
"You can see she's not perfectly square, but she works."
Riebe and Clements don't use electronic fish finders, either, or underwater video cameras. They practice ice fishing in its purest form -- by sitting and waiting.
"I guess I just like to fish, that's all," Clements said. "I don't have any stories to tell about going ice fishing in order to get away from it all. Heck, I live on the lake. It's just fun to catch fish."
Fishing village
Riebe and Clements pulled their house onto Green Lake on Jan. 1 and joined the sizable village of fish houses that sprang up after New Year's. That's when the ice on Green and other Twin Cities-area lakes became thick enough to drive on, allowing hordes of anglers to pull their houses out of storage and out on the area's lakes.
Dick Zacharias of Frankie's Bait Shop in Chisago Citysaid ice fishing has been good on local lakes, with anglers catching northern pike and largemouth bass during the day and crappies in the early evening.
As the sun began to set and the moon rose, Clements settled into a chair in the shack and began jigging for crappies. He caught several small ones that were returned to the hole.
Suddenly, his rod doubled over like a huge crappie had snacked on Clements' wax worm.
"Whoa!" Clements yelled as he set the hook.
That's when he noticed Riebe's hand reaching under the fish house floor and tugging on his line.
"Dude!" Clements protested.
Riebe's cackling laughter echoed across the ice.
It was all in good fun, as ice fishing was meant to be.