Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Young girl and father with 39 inch northern pike. © Dave Janssen

This 39–inch northern pike meets its 42–inch angler and her father.
© Dave Janssen

February 2014

Growing up on the ice

A girl's fishing dream comes true and delivers lifelong lessons.

Dana Kampa

There are advantages to being raised in the rural northern area of Wisconsin, one of the most prominent being the connection with nature. Ever since I was old enough to hold a rod, my dad and I would go out on the surrounding lakes to catch some fish and experience nature at its best. Some of my happiest memories are of sitting around a fishing hole, waiting for something to bite while my nose turned pink from the cold.

During the winter of 2003, I decided that I wanted to catch a big northern pike. My dad and I would go out day after day until it was so dark we could hardly see well enough to drive off the lake. Then, on one of our last opportunities to go out for the winter, I knew the day had come. We did all of our pre–fishing rituals, including getting a small piece of candy at the bait shop. My dad and I went to our favorite lake, set up our tip–ups and began waiting.

We caught one decent pike about halfway through the day, but I knew it wasn't THE fish. As the sun began to set, vibrant red and gold streaks filled the sky. I always wanted to stick around for every moment of the sunset, even after a long day of fishing, because no two moments were the same. Even now, I can simply close my eyes and see those evenings I spent with my dad more than 10 years ago. This comes in handy, especially since I am in my freshman year of college in a new, big city. It's easy to feel lost or intimidated in such a different place. But after remembering those moments, I somehow know that everything will work out in the end.

Eventually, the moon rose and the sky blackened. We started picking up our gear under the moonlight. When we got to our second tip–up, we saw that the flag was up. All of the line was spooled out and my dad told me that the fish had likely gotten off in the weeds. Still, I pulled the line in hand–over–hand until I felt some resistance. I pulled again and this time I felt something big move on the other end of the line — something very big.

I can still feel the line in my hands as the fish tugged against it. The battle lasted for a long time and I was fearful with every thrash of its head that the fish would shake the hook and be gone forever. I had taken off my mittens to pull in the line, but I was so excited that I hardly felt the cold February night. My dad coached me the entire time, teaching me when to pull and when to take it easy. But he never touched the line — he left that up to me.

Even though I was young — just 8 years old — my dad let me fight my own battle and he knew how much it meant to me to bring in the fish with my own two hands.

That's really what my dad was to me as I was growing up — a mentor and a coach. He respected my right to succeed or fail on my own, but he was always there to give advice or a helping hand when needed. With that helping hand, I finally lifted the monster up into the air. Its toothy mouth was agape, filling the entire width of the hole. Once its snake–like body was out of the water and on the ice, I started whooping and hollering. This was the fish I had been hunting all season.

We later learned that I, a 42–inch angler, had brought in a 39–inch pike. As fantastic as the fish was, I had landed something even more valuable that day. I gained a greater appreciation for the environment. I also know today as I reflect on that night on the ice, how much those father–daughter fishing trips shaped me into the person I am today. I am conscious of the fact that my actions have an effect on the environment around me. I respect people, animals and the natural systems at play and believe that whatever our personal convictions, we should all be aware of the history and workings of the resources around us. As I move on to pursue further education in Madison, I can carry these lessons with me.

When I left home for college, my dad gave me a collapsible fishing pole as a going away present. To an outsider, this may seem like an odd gift to give a college freshman. But to me, it is a great reminder of all the days we went fishing together. As he handed it to me, he told me that he would miss his fishing buddy. To tell the truth, I will too.

This present is both useful and symbolic to me. As I move forward, making new friends with whom I can explore Lake Mendota in the winter, I carry the knowledge that my dad passed down to me. I can share my experiences with others and learn how they view nature. I can make connections between my new urban life and my rural upbringing. Most importantly, I can simply have a good time going fishing.

Dana Kampa is an 18–year–old University of Wisconsin–Madison student studying journalism and writing. She grew up in Spooner.