Last week I opened the mailbox to discover a long white envelope with a return address from Connecticut.
It was from an Internet friend, Susan, whose fourth grade students are learning about watersheds and how they can positively impact our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds or oceans. The 88 students are studying the Mill River in Stamford, Connecticut, but are also interested in learning about other watersheds.
That’s where Flat Stanley comes in. How many of you know about Flat Stanley?
Flat Stanley is a laminated cardboard cut-out (sorry, Stanley, I hope that didn’t hurt your feelings) who popped out of my long white envelope and asked to learn about Lake Superior. He is based on a book called Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown. Unfortunately, the tale goes, he was accidentally squished “as flat as a pancake” when a bulletin board fell on him. He is very, very flat but otherwise very fine.
(The better to stuff in white envelopes, methinks.)
Susan’s students have sent Flat Stanley’s to visit watersheds all over America and the WORLD! If you are selected to be Flat Stanley’s “host family” you take him to visit one of your watersheds and tell about the exciting things he saw or did with you while he visited.
You take a picture of Flat Stanley by that body of water and write something about the watershed. Then you send it beck to the students. He will be part of a huge learning display at the school’s science expo in May.
How cool is that?
Teachers, students and host families have been experiencing Flat Stanley fun at many, many schools all over the country. Susan thought of me immediately when a) she read about my friends’ tomfoolery when they created a Flat Kathy and b) she saw photos of Barry ice fishing on Lake Superior on Facebook. She put two and two together and mailed Mr. Stanley in the envelope.
As you can see by the photos, Kathy had to overcome all objections to ice fishing and take a trip out on the ice, thanks to Ms. Susan. She couldn’t leave this task to Barry and his fishing buddies. She suspected she must accompany them on a trip and make sure Flat Stanley returned home safely. (Plus, she thought, wouldn’t this make a good blog?)
By some strange coincidence, Barry and his fishing buddy, Nancy, were planning a trip ice fishing on Sunday with an 11-year-old boy. It would be his first time ice fishing. His name is Derrick and he’s in 5th grade, so didn’t it seem logical that Flat Stanley absolutely MUST accompany them?
Derrick would know about Flat Stanley, wouldn’t he?
“Do you know about Flat Stanley?” I asked Derrick. He gave a great big grin and nodded enthusiastically.
Off we walked onto the ice. Flat Stanley was still squashed between two boards, so he didn’t get to see the beginning of our walk. We didn’t take him out until we started to drill holes in the ice.
Here are some ice facts. The ice is now 13 inches thick. Ice fishermen first start feeling safe on the ice when it’s about three inches thick.
When it’s 13 inches deep, there are snowmobiles and four wheelers and–sometimes–pickup trucks roaring around on the ice. It’s helpful to have a machine pull your tent and supplies out to the middle of the bay.
Otherwise, when the snow is heavy and wet and slushy and thick one can get quite a work-out! My heart started pounding quite wildly after assisting Nancy in pulling her tent. Both she and Barry seem quite used to the strenuous activity.
I am so proud of Barry for being able to pull his sled and walk through such difficult conditions with his two knee replacements. A year ago he could hardly walk at all.
As all ice fishermen know, one must drill a hole through the ice with an instrument called an ice auger. There are hand and power augers. We use razor-sharp hand augers.
It can be another workout to drill through the snow and thick ice. We showed Flat Stanley and Derrick how to make a hole in the ice.
They caught on very quickly.
After the holes are drilled, one must set up the tents over the holes. Barry and Nancy have two very different kinds of tents. Barry’s is a tepee tent made by a local fisherman. Nancy’s is a plastic get-up that unpacks into a full portable shanty. Each tent has its advantages and disadvantages. I could probably tell you, but could not guarantee any accuracy, so ask them next time you see them.
Or perhaps Derrick or Flat Stanley will be able to better explain these intricacies.
Once the tents are erected, you climb inside, sit in your chair, and zip up the enclosure. You start the heater. Nancy takes out a bag of pretzels.
You are handed an ice fishing “bobbing stick” complete with a jig and sucker bait and instructed to send the wire down the hole. You unwrap the wire from the stick, carefully counting 125 wraps. You do not think about pretzels. You do not converse. You count. Carefully. Each wrap equals two feet. You are aiming for the bottom where the lake trout glide.
One must learn what the “bottom” feels like. Once you’ve hit bottom, you pull your wire up about 3-6 inches. Then you jig your stick. That means you very slowly move your stick up and down several inches.
You do this all day.
If you are lucky, a red-finned lake trout will see your bait dangling before his hungry lips.
It will bite.
You will feel the bite from 250 feet down with your jigging fingers and you will abruptly pull to “set the hook”.
Then you will begin to pull the fish upwards from the depths, spreading the wire between your open legs, making sure that the wire falls in big loops. It must not get tangled.
Repeat. It must not get tangled. The fishing wire costs about $25 and you want it to last season-after-season. You do not want the wire to kink and become impossibly tangled.
Flat Stanley was utterly mesmerized by the fishing teachings.
So was Derrick.
Kathy’s heard it before, but she always forgets in between fishing trips, so she listens again.
She is also very fearful she will get 73.2% of this wrong because she hasn’t memorized technical details. She will make her husband read this when he gets home from work. He will correct all her mistakes. You may want to come back and read the corrected version later. 🙂
Some days the fish bite like crazy! You can get your limit of five lake trout easily and walk back home with buoyed step and light heart and happy anticipating stomach.
On other days…well, on other days the fish refuse to nibble. They’re picky. They casually mouth the bait and spit it out.
Lake trout go on feeding binges. They will eat anything in sight on certain days. Local fishermen joke that they’ve caught trout with a hotdog during a feeding frenzy.
On their more restful days, well, one shouldn’t be out on the ice.
The trouble is, you never know when they’re feeding or when they’re resting. They don’t advertise.
One thing fisherfolk do while jigging for hours and hours is…you know, don’t you?…eat and drink. Yesterday, Nancy brought hotdogs and we brought vegetarian chili. Oh, yes, and the aforementioned pretzels which the boys in the other tent did not get to sample.
Can you imagine? The boys in the other tent were making a competition out of it! They were making it “boys against girls”. The boys wanted to beat the girls by catching more fish!
(Except, what they forgot, is that Flat Stanley is a boy and he was in our tent!)
Girls must be especially careful not to drink too much when ice fishing in the middle of the bay. Boys have the ability to discretely “use the rest room” without drawing much attention to themselves. We girls must sip sparingly and make it home five hours later unless we want to “use an ice cream bucket”.
We girls chose to wait.
You are waiting for the grand finale, aren’t you? The question of the day! Did we catch fish? Did Derrick and Flat Stanley catch a fish?
And the answer is– YES! The boy’s tent caught a fish and the girl’s tent caught a fish. Derrick pulled up a lake trout from way down in the lake. Flat Stanley (sorry, Nancy, you’re willing to give this to Flat Stanley, aren’t you?) caught one in our tent!
It was a wonderful fishing trip. We all laughed a lot. Derrick went home with two fish for dinner. And Flat Stanley is already wondering what he will share with the class back in Connecticut who is eagerly waiting for him to come home and tell about his watershed adventure.
P.S. John Kuttenberg provided this link so we can view where the ice is in Lake Superior: http://1.usa.gov/ZuuxTe
Thank you, John!