It's a keeper: Ellsworth man loves thrill of ice fishing
Vernon Ellefson likes to stay busy.
"I don't like sitting around inside the home," said Ellefson, a retired teacher from the Ellsworth School District. "The hunting seasons are done and I want to stay active and get some fresh air."
The 69-year-old's favorite winter activity is ice fishing, something he's done for 60 years.
The Illinois native was introduced to ice fishing at age nine by an uncle. He learned how to summer fish even earlier as a grandfather took him cat fishing when he was five-years-old. He was seven when he went trout fishing on the Eau Galle River as his family moved to this area.
"It's all about the thrill and anticipation of it," he said. "To me, it's just as satisfying to catch a sunfish that's about 10 inches long and weighs 12 ounces than it is in catching a walleye."
As soon as there's enough ice on the lakes, Ellefson's out there.
"I've gone out on 2 ? inches before," he said.
His favorite spots include Bear Trap and Wapogasset, west of Amery, Balsam Lake, Big Round Lake, north of Amery, and Butternut, located near Luck.
Ellefson hits those lakes usually twice, but sometimes three times a week with fellow Ellsworth natives Brian Thalacker or Clair Severson.
When out there, he prefers fishing by himself, as he brings along a one-man portable shack with his self-made jigs and select rods/tip-ups. Tip-ups are mainly used on windy days because the wind won't interfere with them as much as a fishing rod.
"If there is wind in those portable shacks, it gets miserable," he said.
Ellefson usually targets pan fish, croppies, sunfish or perch, but when an occasional northern comes his way, like the 12? pound one he caught about six years ago on Balsam (using a tip-up, he said, he knew it was a good one when he set the hook and it took his hand into the hole), he won't pass it up.
Which is why he does fish by himself because, if he's having a good day, he wants to let as few people know as possible.
"We spread out and try different spots," he said. "A good ice fisherman is the best liar because if people see me catching fish, they'll drill their hole right next to me.
"You have to keep things pretty quiet or otherwise you'll get so many people."
To back up his point, Ellefson told the story that he, along with Severson and/or Thalacker, were having a good day catching crappies on Balsam Lake. An acquaintance of one of the three asked about the spot and, the next time they went out, 16-18 people were at their location.
And that is why Ellefson, who still fishes during the summer, has a preference between the two.
"If I had to choose between the two," he said. "I'd sell my boat tomorrow."
He continued: "I like ice fishing better because you get away from the crowds. We don't even go fishing on the weekends during the summer because there's so much water traffic from speed boats, water skiers or personal watercraft."
The cold weather doesn't even stop him. He remembered he was fishing at Balsam Lake when it was about 15 below.
"The sun was shining and there was no wind," he said. "I didn't even have to use the heater."
When done for the day, Ellefson brings his catch home to his wife, Nancy, of 47 years.
"I don't catch them or clean them, but I'll cook them and eat them," she said, as she estimated they have fish around twice a week.
Fishing is something Vernon passed on to his kids, as all three of them, Nicci, Lisa and Mike, have done in their lives. The family is extended to four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
"They're all either six- or seven-years-old when they could bait their own hooks," Vernon said.