BEMIDJI – In a city of temporary homes, Jeff Iceman was an island of minimalism.
Yes, his name is Iceman.
The village began taking shape early Saturday, when trucks carrying portable canvas fish houses and supplies for the Beaver Pride Hardwater Classic flowed onto Lake Bemidji. As gear was unpacked and put into place, the city on ice took shape.
And there in the middle of it was Iceman’s austere encampment.
“I guess I wasn’t thinking,” he said, looking at his neighbors who stood outside their canvas huts. “I knew I was coming here.”
Iceman, a 48-year-old truck driver from Blackduck, was one of an estimated 500 who competed in the fishing tournament – and one of a few without the comfort of canvas walls.
He tinkered with his line, descending into one of 2,000 holes drilled Saturday morning by members of the Bemidji State football team. Proceeds from the tournament benefit the college’s athletic scholarship program.
In front of him was an electronic fish finder, and at his back, a low-tech windbreak: plywood.
Iceman sat on a sled used to carry his supplies – a cooler, rod and line, minnows, that plywood board, a bucket and a propane tank with heater. His ticket, like hundreds of others, hung from his jacket. It was a teasing reminder of the length a fish must reach to be considered for a prize.
The gadget in front of him was working just fine, but it could only do so much.
“It just tells you if there’s fish down there,” Iceman said. “It’s a game of patience. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat.”
The machine does not tell you when the fish – northern, walleye and perch – had their last meal.
By 1 p.m. Iceman had pulled just a single perch from the water beneath his feet. It wasn’t big enough to keep, so back in it went. He hoped to match the $1,000 he won at the Cass Lake tournament last year. If the 1.86 pound walleye that was in first place as of 1:30 p.m. remained the heaviest, $1,000 would go to someone else.
As a group set up their temporary home not far from Iceman’s camp, he looked at the propane tank and heater to his right. It provided no heat.
“I dragged all this stuff out here and forgot to bring a lighter,” he said.
Perhaps there’s a reason for Jeff’s surname.