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Intro to ice fishing

LAC QUI PARLE -- "It's good work if you can get it," said Jeff Lalim, a broad smile on his face.

It was his comeback for the ribbing that he had been taking, including some from his mother.

"She said: 'You're going ice fishing for a class?' "

Yes he did.

Lalim, an instructor with the Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls, started his work day one week ago Friday by scooping the ice from newly drilled fishing holes on Lac qui Parle Lake.

Along with fellow instructor Ben Lecy, he hosted 11 high school students - five girls and six boys - for a day-long "hands on" ice fishing experience. No lectures included, but lots of fun.

The one-day ice fishing outing has now become an annual event for Lalim and students in his Lifetime Activities class.

A couple of years ago the YME school district surveyed its senior class and learned that students wanted more physical education programs in school, but not the usual 'run around the gym' kind of thing, said Lalim.

The answer has been this elective physical education class for high school seniors. They devote an entire semester to experience the kinds of sports and physical activities that they can enjoy through their adult lives. This group has tried their hands (and feet) at everything from golf and broomball to lacrosse and floor hockey.

Everyone in the class knew the subject their mentor was most eager to teach. "He's been talking about it since day one," said Bradley Muhl as he made his bobber bounce in a portable fish house.

Certainly no one was more excited than their instructor when student Martin Hagen pulled up the first walleye of the day. "It's the first walleye ever in Lifetime Activities," proclaimed Lalim before Hagen returned the 11¾ -inch specimen to the water.

This was nothing new to Hagen, who is an avid fisherman. But that is not always the case with high school students today in the land of 10,000 lakes.

Lalim said that while all 11 of this year's class could tell him they have been ice fishing at least once before, only a few can say they actually venture out enough to know what it's about.

Exposing students to activities like ice fishing is important, Lalim noted. If we want young people to stay and make their careers in this area, we need to introduce them to the recreational opportunities they can enjoy here.

And if we want them to appreciate the outdoors, there is no better classroom than the real thing, he noted.

Last year's class was the first. It included four students who had never ice fished in their lives, said Lalim. One of the four happened to be a foreign exchange student from Hong Kong who couldn't get over the novelty of walking on water.

He never got over the fishing bug, either. After the ice fishing trip he started taking advantage of his host family's home along the Minnesota River to wet a line every chance he could, according to Lalim.

That's despite the fact that last year's class took to Lac qui Parle Lake on one of those days when the winds screamed and the ice was a glass sheet wanting of snow. The girls in the class had to be escorted on the ice or the wind would literally send them sliding down the lake, Lalim said, laughing at the memory.

This year the temperature was nudging 20 degrees and only the slightest breeze was available to carry the formations of geese that occasionally honked along the horizon. As Lalim fired up a barbecue grill outside, the five girls in this year's class learned about an important ice fishing tradition.

They played cards in the comfort of their teacher's heated fishing house. The portable radio was tuned to the only station it could receive. Fishing lines dangled from rattle wheels in each corner of the house. Were a fish to bite and pull the line, the wheel would turn and rattle, and interrupt the card game.

"Everything, I like everything we do," said Lindsy Rohlik when she and her fishing partners were asked about their Lifetime Activities Class. "I like how Mr. Lalim gets into it," added Melissa Rasmusson.

Their opinion was shared in the portable fish house just a few steps away, where Braden Lee, Bradlay Muhl, and Hagen jigged their poles while watching a small screen showing an underwater camera's view of their bouncing minnows.

Hagen watched one walleye rip his minnow from the hook before he could give a reciprocating tug on his pole. No matter. He dunked another minnow, the walleye returned and was landed.

Last year's class never caught a walleye, but did land a striped bass and catfish, and lost one cell phone. It belonged to instructor Ben Lecy. "The last thing I saw was 12:59," said Lecy. "I'm not accepting any long distance calls from walleye."

There weren't a lot of walleyes calling, but at day's end Lalim could report the class had nine bites, and caught three walleyes and one perch. All were released.

Next week starts the second semester and Lalim will introduce a new class to Lifetime Activities. "In early February I have to go fishing again," he laughed.