By Nick Simonson

Of angling's many positive elements, near the top of the list is that it is a great way to spend time with friends that are so close they might as well be family. My buddies and I try to make it a regular thing to meet up at the cabin, at someone's house, back home or even just somewhere that is rumored to be on a run for whatever the season allows. It doesn't matter what's biting; walleyes in the springtime, bass in the summer, or panfish through the winter ice - fishing is a common bond that brings us together, no matter how different we are or the distance that separates us.

This weekend, undoubtedly our last of the hardwater season, was another of our meet ups. But it was unique, not for just the successful crappie fishing, but also for the combination of anglers. With my usual fishing buddy, Holmes, an old friend new to the sport of angling, Marty, and my brother in law, Adam, I hit the rapidly-deteriorating ice in search of slabs and some more memories, with each of my friends bringing their unique characteristics along for the trip.
Holmes has been my buddy since high school and my frequent partner-in-fish for the better part of the last decade. From smallies on the Sheyenne River, to largemouth in Minnesota on Memorial Day weekend, you'd find Holmes' picture next to the definition of fishing buddy. He's an all-business angler, a walleye-centric outdoorsman and one heck of a camp cook. Underneath his gruff exterior is a friendly grin - when I threaten him with multiple after-catch pictures if he doesn't smile - and a library's worth of knowledge and bulletin board wisdom. Quick on the hookset, and light on the chatter, he tempers my outlandish excitement over just about any fish with a stoic nod.

Marty's younger brother and my younger brother played basketball together, and when we'd travel to watch their tourneys we'd often talk about our shared interests while the game played out. We're hockey fans, particularly of the late 1990s Detroit Red Wing teams led by Sergei Fedorov and we have a shared appreciation for Metallica's music. The one thing we didn't have in common was fishing. That is, up until this summer when I threw my big book of bassin' tips at him and the rest was history. In an even quicker transition, Marty became a full-gear ice angler in just under a month after his first outing at our meet up in February. Ten days later I received a text message from him saying he'd bought a Vexilar. Proof positive that 13-inch crappies can change the world.

My brother-in-law Adam, who was my friend well before I was engaged to his sister, has been a faithful comrade in arms and rods, accompanying me on my do-it-yourself wild goose chases into the woods of Superior National Forest and the streams of the north shore of Lake Superior. When a bolt needs cutting, an engine needs fixing or something mechanical needs engineering, he's the guy I call. I hope the misguided service I provide is a suitable payment for his friendship, because I know he knows that many times I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm glad he lets me do it anyway. Then, when I try to whip the water into a froth with my fly rod, he's content to catch fish after fish with his spinning gear. I'm sure I add some notes to his mental checklist of what not to do, but hopefully every now and again, I provide a tip that helps him out.

With rain, fog and one brief glimpse of sun for the first time in more than eight days setting the backdrop for our weekend, we chased eater-sized crappies and some serious slabs over four different lakes, sleeping a total of ten hours over the two days. We swapped stories, electronics, lures, jokes and curses at missed hooksets in our twenty hours on ice, filling the weekend with as much fishing time as we could.

In the end, as we digested a fryer full of crappie fillets and shook hands in the driveway at my grandma's cabin, it wasn't so much the great late-ice angling that made the weekend a success as it was the people I was fishing with. We planned for our next meeting in May and bid each other good fishing until that time.

Holmes headed back to Valley City, a place where we terrorized the fish from March to ice-up every year. Adam returned to his studies and his impending graduation with honors in Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in May and promised me he'd keep an ear out for the first booming ruffed grouse. Marty fired up his Jeep and headed a couple of miles away to his new home in Detroit Lakes, a drive we all envied not only for its shortness but also for its proximity to the lakes we had found recent success on. And I fired up the blue Ranger and headed down the highway, replaying the weekend in my head and my fond memories of my time spent with these fishing buddies…in our outdoors.