FERNAN LAKE - Before Tom Colnaric heads to Fernan Lake for a day of ice fishing, he goes over a checklist in his head.
Five fishing poles, auger, scooper to remove ice, buckets for the fish, chair, bucket for the bait and of course, worms and maggots for bait.
But as the Hayden man stood on the snow- and ice-covered lake early Monday afternoon, he laughed as he thought of something he left behind.
"I forgot the beer," Colnaric said, smiling.
Still, even without a brew or two, ice fishing on Fernan Lake was a pretty good way to spend a few hours.
The snow was drifting lazily down, the trees on the hillside were frosted white, and it was blissfully quiet - the kind of quiet that makes you relax and realize life is good.
"Everybody else is at home," he said. "They don't like the weather, the cold, but this is great. This is beautiful."
Best, perhaps, is knowing the ice is a solid six inches thick. No breaking through to the 30-degree water beneath.
"Last week was the first week I felt comfortable coming out here. I dug the first hole off the dock just to see and it was a good three, four inches," he said.
Plus, he had another reason for feeling confident on the ice a good 50 yards or so from shore.
He pointed out toward the middle of the lake, around a point, where a few small figures sat in the distance. More fishermen.
"It's always nice to see other people out there. Then I know I'm OK," he said.
It's the time of year when Fernan freezes over and for a short window of time, it becomes a place to rival a Norman Rockwell painting.
It becomes home to ice skaters and hockey players. Kids and parents play together. Dogs and their owners romp gleefully across the top of the lake. The brave, perhaps foolish, spin about on four-wheelers and a few even sit around small fires.
But more than anyone, there are fishermen. They are the diehards and they love the ice.
Like James Morales and wife Carol of Coeur d'Alene.
Bundled in heavy coats, pants and boots, they planned to spend a few hours Monday hoping to hook a perch or trout
"We're dressed for the occasion," James said. "I'm actually starting to sweat."
The couple came with the bare basics of ice fishing after spending $40 the day before: Two poles, some lures and bait, one small portable chair and a wooden pole.
Why the pole?
"I don't have an actual auger, so I just find a hole that's easy to break through," said James Morales, who uses his bare hand to scoop excess ice from a hole.
No matter. They weren't in any hurry.
"Ice fishing is pretty slow," he said. "It's pretty slow because the fish aren't moving very fast."
Anyway, they came for that peaceful feeling and scenery, too.
"Relaxation," James said. "It'd be nice to catch something,"
His wife had another reason for wanting to test Fernan's waters.
"My son wanted to go and I wanted to make sure that the ice was safe before I brought him out." she said. "He's only 10."
It froze over enough last week for them to feel comfortable and quit worrying about falling through the cracks. They were told the ice should be at least four inches thick before venturing out on it, and six is better.
"We've got that," she said.
An added bonus, Colnaric said, is the fish are biting.
"Every day but today I caught my limit. I went over to Avondale today, earlier, and nothing. It was slow, I was there for a couple hours and then I packed it up and came out here. I always fish over there," he said.
He showed off a few rainbow trout that measured the same length as his boot, about 12 inches.
"They're usually a little smaller down on the other side over there," he said.
Plus, Fernan is a quick 15-minute drive from his home.
"I know the fish are here. I usually catch them and we'll eat them tonight," Colnaric said.
His routine works.
He sits patiently in his chair and his eyes dart back and forth between fishing poles, waiting for one to quiver. When it does, he's up and running.
"I haven't fallen yet," he said, laughing.
Most times, he's successful and reels in his catch.
"I missed that last one," he said. "You don't usually miss them. They're so hungry, they see that worm, they hit it pretty good."
Colnaric has been fishing summers and winters four years now. He prefers the glacial temps of January to the rising mercury of July.
"The trolling in the boat, you're sitting on your butt, you're not exercising," he said. "Here, at least you're walking, getting fresh air, look at this snow falling slowly, gorgeous. Beautiful weather."
Friends & Fishing
Roger Brockhoff and Jim Headley trudged in from the middle of Fernan Lake Monday afternoon, rope in hand as they towed their portable huts.
Brockhoff labored hard as he ascended the embankment on the shore first to reach his truck,
"Who said fishing was easy?" he said out loud to no one in particular.
The two longtime friends spent about five hours on the ice Monday and were out there Sunday, too.
Their small, portable ice fishing tents with seats and heaters provide comfort against the cold.
Oh, and a little something else helps, too.
"Sometimes whisky, sometimes not," Brockhoff said.
"Yesterday, the boys got into the whiskey pretty good," Headley said, laughing. "It didn't improve the fishing, though."
The North Idaho men were the first one on the ice Sunday, and were rewarded with plenty of perch.
"It just takes somebody to kind of feel it out," Brockhoff said. "There's five inches of ice, plenty of ice. With the holidays, just hasn't been anybody out."
Headley said they've been fishing the local waters together for more than three decades - and it doesn't really matter if the reels are turning or sitting silent. It's just being out there with friends.
"It's not the catching," he said. "We all like to fish and we all like to eat them. It works out pretty good. We'll get together now and have a big fish fry."
"We kind of stretch the fun part out," Brockhoff added.
Today's fishing huts work wonders, Headley said, in easing the lake's icy conditions.
"Years ago we built our own sleds and put PVC pipe and tarp around us. Now you can buy these for $300 or $400," he said. "They're pretty nice."
No matter, though. Ice fishing beats most anything, anyway, Headley said, when it comes to the outdoors.
"It's not like duck hunting where you're sitting in a blind waiting hours and hours waiting for the weather to get worse," he said, laughing.
Brockhoff, wearing a cap and overalls with the collar pulled high around his neck, nodded in agreement.
"It beats going down south in the winter. I tried that," he said. "Too many people down south."
Then, he glanced out toward the lake, where just a few anglers remained, barely visible through the winter mist.
"This is the place to be in the winter, as far as I'm concerned."