Gary Roach, the man who many in the angling world instantly recognize as Mr. Walleye in the open water environment, is no stranger to ice fishing.
Roach is a tournament champion and product innovator, accumulating numerous, if not uncountable, contributions to the art of fishing as we know it.
But maybe we don't know Gary Roach as well as we think.
You see, Gary Roach is an easily identifiable figure, with his face adorning everything from fishing rods to tackle to books and magazines. But he's still thought to be an angler content with fishing walleyes on open water.
Yet Gary Roach is a passionate angler for all species of fish, highly dedicated, and an expert, get this, ice fisherman.
So it was no surprise that when I called Gary Roach's house at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, his wife, Beverly, answered the phone and informed me that he was sitting in the ice house and she really couldn't say when he might return. Beverly also assumed he'd need to clean fish upon his return, which occasionally happens when Mr. Walleye decides to spend a day on the ice.
Roach doesn't typically keep much, "four or five bluegills, crappies or perch," for he and Beverly to enjoy on a chilly winter's eve and releases the rest to swim again.
Roach began fishing the same way many of us did, at the age of four from the end of a dock searching for panfish and the occasional pike. A sibling in a family of eight, Roach spent most of this youthful days trying to catch a fish to put in the icehouse; a structure lined with ice and sawdust for preservation until cleaning time.
"When we a got a five gallon pail full of fish, we knew it was a good day," says Roach in retrospect.
And ironically, for Park Rapids residents, the Merrifield native caught his largest walleye ever on Fish Hook Lake.
"We were doing some scouting for Camp Fish years ago and a couple guides and I had spent the day on Fish Hook. Near dinnertime, I decided to hit one more weed bed and I hooked a fish I thought was a big pike. One net man froze at the sight of the fish, a second grabbed the net and we landed it. Then we stopped at Delaney's and put her on the scale. It weighed 13 lbs 2 oz."
And so Roach still dreams about dropping a line, even through the ice, on Fish Hook Lake once again.
"It's got some great drop-offs, nice fish, and for a lake so close to town, it really doesn't have a ton of pressure," says Roach.
His advice to ice anglers? "Use a tiny spoon, like a 1/12th Northland Tackle Macho Minnow spoon tipped with live bait."
Once back at home from a successful day on the ice, Roach looks up to see the sign Beverly has strategically place beside the doorway, which simply states, "Gone fishin'. Be back for deer season."