Ten Weeks: Ice Fishing in Wisconsin | wisconsinacademy.org
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Ten Weeks: Ice Fishing in Wisconsin

A photo essay by Mike Rebholz

Beginning as a contemplation of the architectural form of the ice shanty, Ten Weeks: Ice Fishing in Wisconsin became much more than that over the ten-week duration of the ice fishing season where I live. I found beauty and community, and I fell for both the day I stepped onto the ice. To be on the ice and share in the cold and camaraderie, the wet and the silence, alters one’s sensibilities.

There is an inherent distance to photographing on the ice. It is a long way from shore to where the fish and the shanties are clustered, and this distance is almost always a component of the photographs. 

There is also a closeness of community if there are fishers on the ice. I hear laughter and jokes, warnings: Someone’s got a flag up. It is that contrast of the big emptiness and the coziness of the shanties that I want to bring home, the sense of a season that only lives a short while and then disappears entirely until the ice returns.

I was talking to a friend the other day who asked why I was making these photographs. I answered with the words above. Later, as I was thinking about these words, I realized there were other reasons as well. There is a large body of what feels like inherited knowledge out on the ice among men and women who seem to have been born to be on the ice, and know what to do out there: Things like how to put a shiner on the hook the right way to attract Northern Pike, how to get enough people and four wheelers together to pull a shack out of the water when it has gone through the ice.

Over the four years that I’ve been photographing ice fishing, I’ve learned things about the winter world of lakes and rivers—the difference in the ways ice can freeze at the start of the season, depending on the weather conditions at the time. How sometimes cold makes no difference, but wind does. 

There’s a certain kind of exuberance found in being outdoors in a place the vast majority of people never go—and in the warm comfort of a shack with a wood stove, a deck of cards, and a cold beer. It is hard to explain in words. And I doubt one could ever fully convey the sense of this temporary world in writing. In short, it is a world that demands to be experienced.

Mike Rebholz, Clint Schneider Shack #1, Lake Monona, 2011. © Mike Rebholz. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproductions allowed.

Contributors

Mike Rebholz is a photographer and lifelong resident of Wisconsin. Rebholz sees his Ten Weeks: Ice Fishing in Wisconsin series as a reflection of the care and interest he has in his native state.

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