One very lucky fisherman

So here is the scoop! Deteriorating ice conditions on the Mississippi River made it so that I set my shack just 20 yards onto the ice from shore at the public boat landing at Stoddard.

The day before when I was completing a trip on this same piece of ice I had talked to a fisherman who caught a 32-inch northern pike and he also told me that he had caught many big gators at this spot at last ice.

Though it is a challenge to do back to back trips, I really wanted a 40-inch pig flopping on the ice that I would release after taking its photo.

Tuesday, Feb. 23 High 36, Low 29 woke up in my Eskimo

I portable ice shack at 5:30 this morning and 21-year-old Ross Moll was sawing logs in a cot next to me. Yesterday afternoon we had 6-tipups out and not a flag.

This morning my buddy, Jeff Neitzel, joined us and our plan was to catch a big fish. By noon it was obvious they were not hungry where we were at, so we made the plan to make about an 800-yard hike to what is to called “the perch hole.”

There is a channel near where my camp is and the ice was becoming sketchy but with a spud and by keeping each of us 20 yards behind each other, we “safely” made the journey to the perch paradise.

We fished until 5:15 and there were maybe eight other fishermen where we were at. Most of them hiked in from further north but two had come the same route as us.

One of the fishermen was a very pleasant man of about 63 whom Ross and I had spoke with the evening before and again today. All I know him by is Fred.

Though the temperature was in the mid 30s there was a damp wind and it was cloudy. We started our journey back to my camp with me in the lead with a spud checking for bad ice, Ross 20 yards back and Jeff 20 yards behind Ross.

After we had traveled maybe 30 yards in what were some significantly worse ice conditions then the trek of five hours earlier, we could see that Fred was headed our way.

I told the guys we should wait for him and we did. Our sheet of ice now had open holes where a person had to see what was in front of them and pick their course, always aware that the ice around the open water was bad as well.

Here is where our world fell apart, “literally,” to one of the epic nightmares of my 54 years. Fred made a decision to pass us, only maybe 20 yards, but he did not have a spud and twice he was walking to open water and both times Jeff verbally stopped him.

Bad luck came our way when Fred broke through the ice in water over his head and now everyone of us had a decision to make. Ross and Jeff were 20 and 40 yards back. I had a 100-foot rope in the sled Ross was pulling. Fred was trying to get out but it was hopeless.

I began barking out orders and at the same time comforting and praising Fred who was actually very calm even though he was literally dying in front of our eyes.

With Ross, who is a real big kid, as the anchor 25 yards away, myself 10 feet from Fred who was pulling on the rope with all his might, we tried pulling him out of the Mississippi River. It was not to be!

So we went to plan B: Ross pulls, I go over to the edge of the ice and grab both of Fred’s shoulders, pray the edge holds and we got him out.

I backed up 10 feet, Fred makes one step forward and falls through again (folks, I swear to God as I write this story I am balling my head off, this was a horrible experience).

Again, we repeated the same process and I knew that Fred had to be in very big trouble due to hypothermia. We got Fred out, even saved his gear and then something really bad happened again.

Fred just started walking towards shore, made it about 20 yards and fell through again.

I have no fear of death but I have a daughter to finish raising and we were really bucking the odds on this last rescue.

With our now fine-tuned rescue operation, we got Fred out and again I want to say that though he made some mistakes he was one tough cookie in the water.

The journey the last 100 yards to shore was just as about as scary as the rescue. Though I did not want to do it, I became a total A-Hole! I Worked the spud, kept Fred 20 yards behind me with two big time heroes in line behind him in 20-yard increments and we made it to shore.

This experience was hard on all of us. I do not wish to talk about it with anyone! Thank you!


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