Family, friends remember fishing guide who died after falling through Lake Superior ice
One day after losing her husband to a Lake Superior ice fishing accident, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson took small solace in what she considers one indisputable fact.
"He died doing what he loved," she said Sunday.
Jim Hudson, 34, a well-known fishing guide from Bayfield, died after his snowmobile went through the ice near Madeline Island's South Channel shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday.
Hudson was born and raised in Bayfield, spending much of his youth on Lake Superior with his grandfather, a local commercial fisherman.
After working 10 years as a member of the Bayfield Police Department, Hudson had left the force a couple years ago to devote himself full-time to growing his Lake Superior fishing guide service.
"All he wanted to do was to teach others about the lake and the importance of preserving and taking care of it," said Stonehouse Hudson of her husband. "He was living his dream."
Chris Beeksma, a fishing guide from Iron River with 26 years of experience, considered Hudson a good friend.
"He was always smiling and always jovial," Beeksma said.
But Beeksma said Hudson didn't fool around when it came to fishing."He was all about catching fish and helping others catch fish," he said. "He always wanted to be fishing on the best possible spot."
Beeksma said Hudson distinguished himself as a gracious, knowledgeable and driven guide. Unlike most of his peers in the business, Hudson managed to book clients steadily all through the winter ice fishing season.
"People trusted him and knew they would catch fish with him," Beeksma said.
Shortly before the accident, Tim Foley, one of Hudson's friends, had been fishing with him atop "about 10 inches of good, hard ice" just off the end of Long Island in about 60 feet of water. He said Hudson was guiding clients at the time and had left them fishing near Foley, while Hudson went to scout ice conditions farther out toward the South Channel with his buddy John Esposito.
Foley said he was inside his shelter when Hudson went through the ice and wasn't aware his friend was in peril until Esposito showed up, dripping wet after several unsuccessful attempts to retrieve Hudson from the water.
Foley and another fishing partner rushed to the scene, but Hudson had already lost consciousness and slipped below the ice's surface when they arrived.
"It's my understanding that he didn't have any flotation equipment on at the time," Foley said of Hudson.
Esposito told Foley he tried to rescue Hudson and twice broke through the ice himself trying to haul him out of the water.
"He (Esposito) did everything he could to save Jim," Foley said.
Foley said he's thankful that Esposito at least was wearing a flotation suit and observed: "If he hadn't had that suit, we might easily have lost two friends yesterday."
Stonehouse Hudson was at a loss as to how the accident happened.
"He (Jim) was a safety freak," she said. "He was the safest ice fisherman I've ever met. I don't know how this happened. Nobody knows."
Pete Maina, a professional angler from Hayward, knew Hudson for the past decade and considered him a close personal friend with a bright future in the fishing industry.
"He was about the last guy you'd expect something like this to happen to," Maina said. "Jim was very safety conscious and detail-oriented."
Foley agreed that Hudson had a reputation for his sound judgment and attention to safety. In fact, Foley said Hudson was instrumental in convincing him and several other friends to equip their sleds with an emergency flotation device manufactured under the Nebulus brand name. But apparently Hudson did not have the equipment with him when he went through the ice Saturday.
"What happened Saturday was kind of the result of a collection of bad decisions. But second-guessing things now is not going to bring Jim back," Foley said. "We all wish things could have been different."
Beeksma said few people were more knowledgeable about ice conditions in the area than Hudson.
"He knew very well how dangerous the lake can be and how ice conditions can change," said Beeksma, noting that Hudson probably would have exercised special caution in the vicinity of the South Channel, where his sled went through.
The U.S. Coast Guard estimated Saturday's water temperature at about 33 degrees. Hudson was in the water for about half an hour before members of the La Pointe Volunteer Fire Department, with help from the Madeline Island wind sled, managed to pull him out. Rescuers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation as Hudson was brought to shore.
Hudson was transported to Memorial Medical Center in Ashland and then airlifted to Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, where he was pronounced dead.
The incident remains under investigation by the Ashland County Sheriff's Office and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Hudson's tragic death reinforces a sobering truth for Lake Superior ice anglers.
"You can't take anything for granted on that lake," Foley said. "You always have to be prepared for the possibility that you're going to break through some day."
Maina called Hudson's accident "a wakeup call."
"I'm a pretty cautious guy, but if something like that could happen to someone like Jim, it makes me think I need to be more careful out there myself," Maina said.
News of Hudson's death prompted an outpouring of condolences for his family from friends and fellow anglers on Twitter and Facebook.
Hudson's wife of eight years, Stonehouse Hudson, said her phone had been ringing steadily with calls from friends and well-wishers in the wake of the accident. A photographer by profession, she found herself in the news last year when a picture a she snapped of Bayfield resident John Unger and his elderly dog, Schoep, resting in the cool waters of Lake Superior on a hot summer day, went viral.
A tearful Stonehouse Hudson was still reeling from her loss Sunday, referring to her husband as "the love of my life."
While her husband's life was cut short, Stonehouse Hudson said he had taught her by example a valuable life lesson about the importance of pursuing your passions.
"He taught us to love life and never do something you don't love," she said.