Gary lowered his pack to the ground before answering my question. I handed him some hot chocolate. He pulled off a glove and took the cup in his bare hand. His fingernails were blue, and he was shaking slightly.
"I don't know," he said. "A long way. I almost didn't make it back. The snow's deep and my fish finder and all this gear weighed me down. I sure wish my snowmobile hadn't died the other day."
"What did you catch them on?"
"We caught a couple on Kastmasters, but most were on my special jig."
Gary takes a white marabou jig and dyes it orange, then tips it with a nightcrawler. "You can't buy orange jigs the right shade," he told me once.
"How many holes did you drill?"
"I don't count anymore. Probably more than 30. You have to drill a lot of holes to find the fish. Sometimes they are closer to shore, sometimes out farther.
Gary was weaving by this time and I helped him get into his truck.
"You better rest a bit before you drive home," I said. "Eat a candy bar or something."
Gary assured me he would be ok and so I packed my stuff onto my sled and headed for the ice.
I found a likely spot, lit my barbecue, threw on a few burgers, then drilled a hole and dropped down my line. Then I leaned back in my chair, unzipped my jacket, put my feet up next to the fire and chatted with friends while we waited for a fish to swim by.
"I love ice fishing," I said, "but I sure hope Gary doesn't ever invite me to go with him."
Gary's a good fisherman and he does catch a lot of big fish. But he pays a terrible price.
That's one of the great things about fishing: You can make it match your style. There's no right or wrong - just what you want and you think is fun.