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Hoping for a better year

AVOCA -- My husband has a t-shirt and probably a can cooler that states something about a bad day of fishing being better than a good day of anything else.

I totally agree, but this year it wasn't bad fishing that was a problem. It was a lack of fishing. It was like there was this giant conspiracy to keep me from wetting lines.

It started last spring. When we returned from our annual Sturgeon Excursion (it happens in early April and the boat had to literally be dug out of the snow in the backyard), my husband Eric left it in the yard awaiting warmer weather. The first day the sun shined down with any amount of enthusiasm, we got giddy. We'd stand in the yard and watch snow piles shrink, and he'd give me a little nudge.

"Fishing is coming," he'd say in a silly voice.

Then the day came when he pulled it out and launched it on Lime Lake in Avoca. I was at work, so I don't know the exact sequence of events, but when I got home the boat was in the driveway, the cover was off the motor and Eric was a very unhappy dude. I don't know the technical details, but something had blown up or died or fried. Something he couldn't fix with a bread twisty and tube socks, like usual. Something that was expensive.

So, he parted out the motor and sold the boat. We're saving up for another, but with a graduation that year and a wedding coming up in a few months, we're not getting far.

In the meantime, we barely got in any fishing last year. No boat, a crazy summer with so much going on, getting a kid ready to send off to college... it just didn't happen much. He went with buddies a few times, but I didn't have the opportunity.

Then the weather started to cool down and we made some upgrades to the fish house. The inside of our house is furnished from an old camper, so there are cupboards, a table and two benches that fold down into a bed. When we (mostly he) built it quite a few years ago, we could sleep comfortably in there, but for some reason, the bed seems to have shrunk over time. We were squashed in it like sardines.

So we decided to do a little work (well, I watched and held tools every now and then) to expand the bed. He also put in LED lights, enough that when we turned them on at night the fish house kind of looked like Las Vegas from outside. We cleaned it from top to bottom, and I even vacuumed the darn thing.

A chill showed up in the air and he nudged me with his elbow.

"Ice fishing is coming," he'd say in a silly voice.

We waited impatiently for ice. But there was a complication. We were also waiting for a grandbaby's birth.

By early December, we cautiously made arrangements for a one-day trip with some friends. The ice had gotten thick enough for the portable house pulled by hand. There was no taking the big house or even using the 4-wheeler, but that was fine. We were finally going fishing!

We did. We fished that day in gale force winds. I had the chance to test out my new Ice Armor -- a snow suit made for anglers, with padded knees and about 300 pockets -- and it was great. But the wind howled and screamed so hard that one person had to be sitting down at all times or the tent-like shack would start sailing across the lake.

I'm pretty sure no one got a bite that day. Our friends went home to Faribault that night, and Eric and I decided to try again the next day. But the winds, if possible, were blowing even harder. I checked in with our pregnant daughter and she was fine. We started gathering up gear, but not with any measurable amount of enthusiasm. Finally we looked at each other and acknowledged the truth -- we weren't in the mood to battle the elements.

In the early afternoon, the wind started going down, and we cautiously peeked out the garage door and gave it some thought. But by then it was Sunday, I was turning my thoughts toward the next work week, and there were chores to be done. Turns out it was a good thing, because at 2 p.m. my daughter, the one who had said that morning she was fine, called to inform us doctors were inducing her baby in two hours. Which meant I had to get to Rochester, pronto!

I stayed up there for a few days of Grandma J bliss then headed home on a Saturday afternoon. The next day was my ONE GOOD FISHING DAY this winter.

Eric and I suited up, headed to a little-used lake and spent the whole day playing on the ice, drilling holes, catching fish and generally being the happiest people on the planet. It was sunny and beautiful, so we didn't even have the portable set up. We giggled and laughed and had a great time. Alas, all good things come to an end, so we headed home, sun-burnt and smiling.

A week later we headed to Rochester so Grandpa Eric could meet his new fishing buddy. Our daughter had already given us a strict warning that she wasn't going to let him take infant Layla out ice fishing until the baby was too big to fit down the hole, but that didn't stop Eric from buying her an ice fishing pole.

A few weeks later, he and I headed up to a fishing get-together a few hours north of us and had a great time chatting with friends and cooking out on the ice. Again, we were in the portable. By then, the ice was opening up back home.

Eric got in one weekend of staying in the permanent house this winter, but it was the weekend of Winterfest in Worthington and I had to work, so I didn't get to go. I didn't get to sleep out in the house, or cook over the Coleman stove, or hear a rattle reel go off. Not once.

We still haven't solved the boat problem, and I have a wedding to plan for the fall, so I'm not sure what kind of fishing we'll get in this summer. But I'm seriously hoping its better than last year. I have high hopes for the winter and Layla won't fit down the hole anymore, so according to Maggie's previously set rule, we should be able to bring her out with us if we feel like it.

But first I need to get my fishing time in. I need to set a hook. I need to feel the gentle breeze in my face or play house in the ice shack. I need to reel in a lunker.

I need to catch some darned fish!