An angler learns lessons in ice fishing

Avid outdoorsman combines his love of snow with catching fish and finds out sport is harder than it looks
Ty Sermon of Salem uses a standard-length fishing rod during his inaugural ice-fishing expedition at Diamond Lake.Courtesy of Jan Sermon

As a snowmobiler since the 1980s and a lifelong angler, Ty Sermon said it probably was inevitable that he would put the two together by going ice fishing, with the end result that he reconnected with his long-lost heritage.

"I've got all this stuff for snowmobiling, so it was a no-brainer. I mean, I've got a camper. I've got a pickup, I've got snowmobiles. I've got a sled with a heater on it," he laughed. "And you've got to have a German short-haired dog with that.

"And I have a wife who was willing."

The bulb came on when Sermon, of Salem, learned about a pair of February ice-fishing clinics at Diamond Lake. He didn't actually make it to the clinic. But the mention of Diamond Lake brought back fond memories of fishing there during the summers.

"My uncle and dad used to take me there when I was a kid 50, 60 years ago," Sermon recalled. "The limit was more, and the fish were fantastic.

"This lake is probably the best producer for fish. And I can find you a picture of probably 20 beautiful fish on the picnic table that we would catch pretty consistently. But I'd never fished there in the winter."

So Sermon, his wife, Jan, and Gunner, the pointer, drove to Diamond Lake. He loaded the gear on a sled and dragged it out onto the ice behind the snowmobile. The setup was so elaborate that others figured he must be a pro, Sermon said.

"I tow my sled with my snowmobile, and I just buzz out there and stop. They looked at me like, 'I want to go and fish next to this guy, because he must know what he's doing,' " he said. "I didn't have a fricking clue."

Case in point: He pulled out his full-sized fishing rod to stand over an 8-inch-diameter hole drilled through the ice. But more about that later.

Sermon missed the February ice-fishing clinic, but he hooked up with Mark Newell, the instructor for Fish and Wildlife, via cellphone.

"He called me ... and I'm out on the lake," Ty Sermon said. "I said, 'Buddy boy, you missed giving me a tour. What can you tell me?' He said, 'We didn't do very well. We had 60 people and only caught five fish.'

"I said, 'I'm doing pretty good, then, because I've already caught two fish,' and we're like in walking distance from the lodge."

Newell advised him that the fishing was better on the south end of the lake.

That's where Sermon learned Lesson No. 1 about ice fishing: Bring a sharp ice auger — a screwlike device for drilling holes in the ice — or test the one that you're renting.

The one that Sermon checked out at Diamond Lake Resort was "so dull I couldn't get it through the ice" at the south end of the lake, so he returned and hooked up with an angler who had a brand-new auger to go with his portable, pop-up ice house.

If the tip about the south end of the lake didn't pan out, another one that Newell offered worked to perfection.

"He said, 'Get down in there and look into your hole. If you can see little creatures in that hole, you've got a good spot,' " Sermon recalled. "I looked down in there, and in one of the holes, there were all of these, they looked like crabs, little white crabs.

"Not very long after that, I caught an 18-inch (rainbow trout)."

Sermon forsees expanding his horizons in snowmobiling for his family with his new ice-fishing gear, including the shorter specialty rods and reels that he bought last week.

Now the punchline about that long fishing rod: Sermon should have known better, because he was born in the land of ice fishing. He moved west from Minnesota with his mother when he was tiny.

He took some ribbing from his brother, John Clemens, who recently moved to Florida from Minnesota.

"He's always on my email. I sent him these pictures, and he called me and said, 'What the hell were you thinking? You don't even have the right pole.'

"He goes, 'You're five generations of Minnesota ice fishermen. Your dad would flip over if he saw that.' "

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