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Holinger: The hard, cold facts about ice fishing

I used to think shivering in a soccer chair while watching 7-year-olds huddle around a soccer ball and freezing rain cut my face was a parent’s most miserable fate.

Then I went ice fishing. Shivering on a soccer chair in below-freezing wind chill watching a hole in the ice makes the torture scenes in “Zero Dark Thirty” look like a Twister party.

My son, Jay, got the bug – or lure – as an exchange student in Gunnison, Colo., last year, and recently thought it his mission to convert my daughter, Molly, and me to his new-found sport.

“There’s nothing else to do,” was Molly’s reason for going. I went because a paternal law requires fathers to sound excited in direct proportion to the asinine quotient of the child’s idea.

The only sweat generated by this sport pours out after pulling on 13 layers of clothing toes to nose, then sitting in an overheated car for the hour drive to Lake Shabbona. Winding through the park’s leafless trees and pale, long-needle pines, we stop at the stone-sided bait shop where we buy hooks and live bait from a suspendered Hemingway impressionist.

“Never know about first ice,” he says, handing me my change. “Might hold in one place, but walk a hundred yards, you never know.”

Immediately I’m watching a movie of the three of us, half submerged, grabbing at ice floes. Nevertheless, we drive to where we see tents blossoming over the ice and haul our 80 tons of equipment to lake’s edge. As Jay strides confidently onto the black ice, Molly and I inch forward, sure we’ll sink out of sight in foot-deep shallows.

By the time we reach Jay, he’s drilled a couple holes. “I’ll put up the tent, if you want.”

Knowing that means we’ll be here more than five minutes, I suggest, “Maybe we should wait on that.”

“Whatever you want,” he says, recognizing his father’s panic.

He hands Molly and me our fishing poles. I try to anchor my folding chair from sailing away in the wind by sitting down, but as I ease into place, the chair notices its weight limit has been ignored and takes revenge, snapping a supporting pole and allowing my rump’s downward momentum to continue unimpeded.

Undaunted, I attempt a photo of Molly with my hand-me-down iPhone, first pressing “off,” and then the reverse-picture button, getting my own puzzled expression. My gloveless hands now numb, I request the tent.

Inside, Molly and I stare at the holes and occasionally inform the other about a newly-numbed appendage.

Suddenly Jay yells, “Got one!” and lifts out a four-inch flapping sunfish. By now I’ve learned which button takes photos; seeing his digital fish and smile, I realize today’s catch is not about fish – it’s about family.

An hour later, we’re throwing jackets, sweaters, turtlenecks, scarves and socks into the car when an L.L. Bean advertisement walks by and asks, “Any luck?”

“One sunnie,” I apologize. “You?”

“Nothin.’ ”

Yes! I scream silently. We came, we augered, we caught.

• Rick Holinger has taught high school English and lived in the Fox Valley for nearly 35 years. His poetry, fiction, essays and book reviews have appeared in more than 100 literary magazines, and he founded and facilitates the St. Charles Writers Group. Contact him at editorial@

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