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A Valentine's Day spent ice fishing

A dogsledding team races past a number of ice houses on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota Saturday afternoon.1 / 3
Hastings resident Nick Langley holds up a small perch he caught Saturday afternoon on Lake Winnibigoshish. He spent Valentine's Day on the ice with his wife, Julie.2 / 3
OK. So, it's not exactly what women have in mind for Valentine's Day, but this little shack served as our home for the daytime hours on Lake Winnibigoshish.3 / 3

For most guys, Valentine's Day usually revolves around wearing nice clothes, stuffy and crowded restaurants and a big bill - both from the restaurant and the jewelry store.

For two Hastings guys, though, this Valentine's Day consisted of fathead minnows, jumbo perch and a small northwoods cabin. And the wives were along for every minute of it.

The end result? A fun weekend getaway that even the ladies liked. Promise.

Friday after work, my wife Lisa and I jumped into a truck with Hastings residents Nick and Julie Langley, and we headed north to the state's fifth-largest lake, the massive Lake Winnibigoshish.

Nick is very familiar with the lake and the area, having spent countless weekends at a family cabin on the lake. With the cabin's water off for the winter and with the ladies along, we figured they'd appreciate a hot shower, so we rented a cabin for two nights. That decision was among several we made along the way that made the trip much different from trips with just the guys.

Our rented house was just a five-minute drive onto the ice from the cabin, so the girls were free to go in at any time. That freedom was a big hit.

Early Saturday I got up and started a big breakfast of biscuits and gravy. By 7:15, as the sun was coming up, I had my boots on, and Nick had the minnows in the truck.

But the girls were moving slowly. That's when I realized the trip was going to be different than trips with the guys, who wouldn't dare miss early-morning fishing. I relaxed and by 8 a.m., we were on our way to the shack.

Along the way, I heard something I had never heard before during an ice fishing trip.

"I didn't bring out any lotion," my wife said to Julie.

We fished for a couple hours before Julie headed back to the cabin for a nap.

Two hours later, my wife went in.

And by 4 p.m., the fishing had stopped being productive, and Nick and I came in.

Our Valentine's Day dinner was spent at the always-romantic Gosh Dam Place, where we dined on burgers, steaks and soup. The restaurant was like a taxidermy museum, with walleyes, perch, black bear and deer adorning the walls. With their brightly colored snowmobiling coats draped over their chairs, local couples dined on lobster tails and raved about the soup.

After dinner we retreated to the cabin for a fun night in. It was one of those nights in which people earn new nicknames and one of those nights that make your cheeks hurt from laughing.

We'd all step outside periodically and get a look at the sky full of stars, and if we stayed out long enough to let our eyes adjust, we could see the lake stretch far into the distance.

Romantic? It sure was for me. It may not have been the typical Valentine's Day weekend, but that was fine with all of us!

About the fishing

We were camped out over about 14 feet of water.

The water's clarity was stunning. The bottom was crystal clear - no Vexilar or Aqua Vu needed. I could look down the hole and see perch all over the place. I could watch them swim up to my jig, and I watched in pain as they swam away.

The action was best early Saturday morning. It took me a half hour to get my second line in the water, as I was busy baiting hooks and removing fish for my wife and myself. It was during that first half hour that we caught our two keepers.

But after those 30 minutes, things quieted down and the fish got much smaller.

It was slow for most of the other anglers near us.

As is always the case, we heard one guy say, "You shoulda been here last weekend." He talked of one house near him landing 35 walleyes in one day.

All day long on the Aqua Vu, though, we saw just one species of fish - the perch.

Ideally, we would have had a portable shack, a gas auger and a snowmobile to chase after the big perch all day long. But this trip was a compromise between our wives and fishing. And the compromise worked perfectly. We all came home with smiles on our faces.

Nick and I are already planning for Valentine's Day 2010.