By Tyler Ash
Traditions have become pushed aside in our fast-paced society. There are the holidays of course but what about family traditions, ones that provide a setting to allow father-son bonding, rites of passages, or a chance to see friends from years past? My family is lucky enough to hold on to our own tradition, an annual ice fishing trip in California of all places.
When an outdoorsman thinks of ice fishing, chances are that California would be the last place he’d expect it. Right off of U.S. Highway 395, near a little mountain town called Bridgeport, there lies a series of lakes that freeze over nearly every winter, and they have produced record-breaking sizes of brook, brown and golden trout.
Every second weekend in May, my father and I, along with a handful of friends, make a pilgrimage up to Bridgeport to be reunited with old buddies, have a weekend of manly crudeness and celebrate the man who started this tradition almost 35 years ago: my grandfather, Bunkie Ash.
Bunkie was not anti-women’s rights, but when the Feminists in the ’70s began stating that girls should be admitted into the Boy Scouts, that was his final straw.
“When that came out, Dad had had enough,” my father, Kendall Ash, said. “He said, ‘screw this, we’re going to figure out something that only boys would want to do.’”
He proclaimed that he wanted to go somewhere that no woman in her right mind would want to go, like the middle of a frozen lake at a 9,770-foot elevation. This way, men could be stupid, vulgar and do things that they normally couldn’t when women are around.
My grandfather and my father began going up to beautiful Mono County in the eastern Sierra Nevada for my grandfather’s birthday and the “Annual Ice Fishing Trip” was born. My father has been going since he was a teenager and I have been going since I was three years old. Family and friends have come and gone on the trip, creating memories and almost a brotherhood among men who don’t always get to see one another.
The group of men either grows or shrinks from year to year, much like the thickness of the ice on the lakes, but every year is a memorable experience.
One of my father’s closest friends, Ted Mori, has been making the trip up to the picturesque scenery of frozen Little Virginia Lake, “our lake” as we have dubbed it, every year since 1993, creating “fantastic memories for tons of years.”
“When you tell women stories of the stuff we do up there, they all just shake their heads and say ‘no thank you,’” he said with a smile.
There have been more memories made on that lake’s frozen surface than fish we’ve reeled in—and we usually get our limit if we want to. I can recall the construction of adult-humored snowmen and contests of who had the best folding chair, but one of the most memorable recollections I have is a competition of who could travel the farthest from sledding down the adjacent mountain. My father hiked at least half way up its slope and laughed all the way down as he rushed past all of us, stopping at the other end of the lake. No one has beaten his record.
Even though we boast about the amount or size of fish we catch, the trip has developed into one about friends and memories, not one centered around fishing. That’s what traditions are really about.
In the formative years of the trip, it was truly about fishing. I started tagging along, as well as other children after me, and it progressed into more about just having fun than catching a ton of fish. I was more interested in the snow than focusing on staring at a fishing pole to see if it wiggled or not. Mind you I was three years old at the time.
Even now as an adult, I really don’t care if I catch anything out on that frozen lake. My only concern is having a good time with friends I don’t get to see often enough. Every year my goal is to catch one fish and if I do, I’m a happy man.