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Monday, April 8
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by Tumbleweed Smith

Early this spring I ventured north to Minnesota in hopes of recording some frogs for my collection of wildlife sounds. The frogs weren't quite ready for prime time (just a few little chirps, not even a croak yet) so I had some time to spend with my Army buddy, Manny. He lives in an area of many lakes and goes ice fishing on huge Lake Mille Lacs when it freezes over. The lake is nearly square, 20 miles across in any direction.

'The lake starts thawing out in March,' says Manny. 'When they can go about twenty miles across the lake without seeing any big floating chunks of ice, they consider the lake clear and thawed out, safe for boaters.'

He says occasionally the wind blows those big chunks right up on land.'Sometimes they land on the highways and that creates problems for motorists. Bull dozers have to come along and push them off and break them up.'

This stuff sounds so foreign to me. I don't think I've ever seen a Texas lake freeze over enough to have icebergs.

'These big ice chunks will uproot big trees, just push them out of their way,' says Manny. 'They'll move anything in their path.'People living by lakes in Minnesota have docks on wheels so they can roll them onto land in the fall before cold weather hits.

'Otherwise these big ice flows could just flip them over. Some of them are as big as a car. They can be a foot thick.'

This year he rolled his dock down into the water the second week in April, a little earlier than usual. After he cranks the wheels up, he lowers steel poles with pads on them into the water. Manny has a canoe, a fishing boat and a pontoon party barge. In the winter he pulls them on land and stores them a good distance from the shoreline.Minnesotans do all kinds of things outdoors on frozen lakes during the winter. The ice gets to be three feet thick by late December.

'When I go ice fishing, I take an ice auger that's 4 feet long so I can bore through the ice. Sometimes I've gone down so far only the handle is above the ice.'

On Lake Mille Lacs, as many as 5,000 ice fishing houses are all over the lake. Some are equipped with all the modern conveniences like TV and microwaves. People live in them in winter. Just drive their cars right up to the front door and stay there. One guy has a double wide on the lake with a fireplace and about a dozen fishing holes drilled in the floor. Manny says it looks like a dance hall out there. The fish houses have to be off the lake by February 28.

The lake has roads on it. Snowplows come by regularly to make the 130 miles of roads on the lake passable. I'll tell you, for a Texan this is a strange sight.

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