by Forrest Fisher
Ardent musky angler Carl Schenk was fishing on his birthday Wednesday with his buddy Tom Reinhardt at the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor. When Schenk arrived at the harbor, he noted there was no one out there, but there was ice, and it looked solid enough for two hard-water fishermen not afraid of a little chill in the air. Testing the ice with a spud bar, the duo accessed the water at the old boat ramp near the restaurant. Not too far out, they auger-tested the white ice to find 4 inches of seemingly solid, safe ice. Then the air warmed up, and it had rained shortly before. It was Carl’s birthday, and Tom tagged along for the safety of the celebration moment when Carl would catch his first fish and call the day a success. It was Carl’s annual birthday custom, and he turned 69 years young this year.
It didn’t take long. Using a 3-pound test and a lightweight fishing stick, Schenk counted the first fish. As he sat there, he noticed the ice began to sink in a large, wide circle around him. He hollered over to Tom that he thought they should head back. “It might be getting mushy,” Carl hollered. Tom said he was fine. “I’m heading in,” Carl said.
“I broke through the ice in 9-feet of water. I was wearing my Frabill float suit and spudding my way along the route we came in on. The spud bar went through, and I was going in before I could back up. Luckily, I threw my body forward, rolled a couple of feet, got onto my hands and knees, and scampered to better ice. I was soaked to the waist with my boots full of water, but it sure could have been worse. I was damned happy to reach the shore.” Tom came in, avoiding my body hole in the ice, and was OK.
Schenk added, “I went home to dry out and sat on the couch with a cup of coffee, waiting for the adrenaline rush to leave. It was a memorable experience that, hopefully, I will not ever repeat. That water was cold!”
For complete safety, float suits are essential gear when it comes to all-season ice fishing. Schenk explained, “The Frabill Float Suit is the only one rated as a Type 3 USCG Approved personal flotation device (PFD). Yes, it’s pricey at about $500, but on that day, it was worth every penny. In addition, it’s so warm and comfortable – and now I can attest to its buoyancy rating, too, that I wear it when fishing for muskies from my boat in the fall and early winter. You never know!”
In the end, it was one birthday celebration that Carl Schenk and Tom Reinhardt will never forget.