District 10 Como Community Council

Know Your Como: Angling for Fish Under the Ice

Know Your Como: Angling for Fish Under the Ice

By Sonjie Johnson and Jeanne Steele

It was mid-February, a bright, mild day when Sonjie Johnson, an inveterate lake walker and observer, spotted the mini-tent city that had sprung up on Como Lake, on the northeast side not too far from the pavilion. The tents she saw were black; other days she also had seen red ones on the lake. Some days, both.

Curious about the story behind the tents, she caught up with Karl Erickson of Elpis Enterprises, who was working that day with Sgt. Amy Rahlf, of the St. Paul Police Dept.
Their mission: To introduce students from Sejong Academy. a Korean immersion school, to ice-fishing.* (Due to competing responsibilities, Johnson enlisted Steele’s help to report the rest of this story.)

Both Erickson and Rahlf see nature as a ready-made gateway for teaching kids from diverse backgrounds lessons they may not learn in the classroom. That belief brought them together a year ago when Erickson partnered with Rahlf, who manages the St. Paul Police Activities League (PAL), to take students from Higher Ground Academy out on the ice for some ice fishing.

Then a teacher at Higher Ground, Erickson is a passionate ice fisherman who has been getting St. Paul kids out on the ice since 2017, when he first collaborated with the Ardent Outdoor Group (wwwardentoutdoorgroup.org) to introduce his 4 th -10 th grade students to ice angling. (Ardent owns the red tents.) A Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources “No Child Left Inside” equipment grant helped him acquire the tents, power augers, and other gear needed for the kids to fish.

When Erickson joined Elpis (www.elpisenterprises.org) last fall, he got a green light to continue the Urban Ice Anglers tradition he had established at HGA and to expand the program to other schools. Over the past several years, he has fine-tuned the management of ice fishing logistics to the point where he can introduce up to five or six classes and as many as 150 students to ice-fishing in a single day – with help, of course, from partners like Sgt. Rahlf, the DNR and the Ardent Outdoor Group.

Any Twin Cities school – public, private or charter — interested in the ice-angling program can participate. All that’s needed is to reach out to Erickson at Elpis (Karl@elpisenterprises.org), and he will put the school on the wish list for a future adventure. Signed consent forms, volunteer chaperones, a school bus and willing students are pretty much all that is needed at the school end. There is no fee for either schools or students.

Erickson and his community partners do most of the work – including applying for grants and enlisting sponsors to pay for operating costs. They assemble gear and bait the night before; haul everything to the pre-selected fishing site the day of; pop-up as many as five 6 ft. by 12 ft. tents/fish houses that can accommodate 4 – 5 students per hour each; auger out the fishing holes, set up plastic buckets for the kids to sit on and fish finders so that they can see there really are fish under the ice. Some students fish with bobbers using live bait. Others fish with jigs, and a few keep an eye on the 5+ tip-ups that signal big fish on the move.

Como Lake is not the only lake Erickson and partner organizations use. Typically, outings take place on the city lake closest to a participating school, provided the lake ice is safe. “Being close makes the hourly bus relay easy and allows students to spend more time on the lake and less time in transit,” Erickson explains.

Safety rules, Erickson says, and the importance of following them, are probably the most important thing students learn from the field trip – that, and hopefully an appreciation for an outdoor, equal access activity they may otherwise never experience.
“I’ve found,” he says, “that some students who may have trouble in the classroom can often be successful on the lake. There’s nothing like catching a fish to give a kid a sense of self-worth. Often, those positive feelings carry over into other academic

Ice Angling Safety Tips

Importantly, before students hit the lake, they are given a basic safety brief:
Ice Safety - Never Ever, Ever walk onto a frozen lake without checking the ice. “The MN DNR recommends 4-5” of clear thick ice for walkable ice. We don’t put students on the ice unless it is double that, like 8 to 10 inches thick,” according to Erickson.
Cold weather Safety – Make sure you are dressed for the occasion and know how to
stay warm.
Heater safety and awareness - ”The heaters are there to keep you warm, but they can start you on fire if you aren’t paying attention to where the heater is,” says Erickson.
Hook Safety - “Keep hooks down in the hole or attached to the poles. They are there to catch fish but not your classmates.”
Hole safety and walking awareness - “Don’t run across the ice or step in any holes, and pay attention to where you are going.”

Lest you are wondering, the kids do catch fish — usually perch and crappies — but occasionally, they catch a glimpse of a big Northern Pike swimming by on one of the sonar fish finders purchased with help from the DNR.

Erickson wasn’t always passionate about ice-fishing. “As a child,” he says, “I thought ice fishing was boring and cold. . . Sit on a bucket and watch a bobber. No thanks.” But that changed 16 years ago upon his return from the first of two tours in Iraq with the
Minnesota Army National Guard. That was when a friend introduced him to “all the
technology that makes it fun and exciting.”
His ultimate goal: To introduce 10,000 students to ice-fishing annually with FREE
(emphasis his) school-based field trips using the technology that makes it engaging.

This year, with the help of PAL, Ardent Outdoor Group, and Veteran volunteers from the Uptown (Minneapolis) VFW, 577 students from three area schools have become Urban Ice Anglers. Follow @urbaniceanglers on Instagram to see this project unfold.