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Local angler hesitant to fish following 2008 ice accident

George Kasper experienced what he hopes is only a once in a lifetime experience when the truck he was riding inside broke through the ice on Little Pine Lake near Perham last March. He just recently began ice fishing again. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Some people would consider George Kasper of Park Rapids a "weathered" angler. He fishes nearly every day and at age 64, has a lifetime of fishing knowledge to help him figure out where the big ones are biting. However, an unlikely experience last March changed Kasper's outlook on angling.

It was March 21, 2008, Good Friday in fact, and Kasper found himself beside a friend from Perham as they drove out on Little Pine Lake to fish for tullibee. The fishing had been very good for the past few days, so George, his fishing buddy and the friend's 10-year-old grandson headed out in search of a bucket full of the silver sided fish.

George's friend had placed a few markers in the area where he had caught a pile of tullibee the previous day, but the wind was howling and the markers were difficult to locate, leading the three anglers in a zigzag pattern searching for their destination.

Yet before the trio was able to wet a line, things turned south, literally. "There was about 30 inches of solid ice throughout the lake," reminisces George Kasper. "We simply landed in the right place at the wrong time."

The three anglers did happen upon a massive group of fish, which was their intention, yet not in the way they anticipated.

A large school of tullibee, which had been very active beneath the ice, prevented the water from freezing to the consistency of the remainder of the lake. According to divers, an area of approximately 30 by 30 feet square presented ice only three to four-inches thick.

"Once our truck hit the thin ice, the front end immediately went in," says Kasper. "Something got wedged in the ice and the truck stayed there for just a minute."

Unable to open the doors, the anglers executed an alternate escape plan. "We opened the windows and were out onto the ice within 30 or 40 seconds," says Kasper. They stood watching in disbelief as the truck quickly sank during a period that Kasper estimates was less than five minutes.

"We got out through the windows quickly but pretty soon the front end went down and all we saw were the tail lights sinking. Then our five gallon fishing buckets floated to the surface." The truck eventually hit bottom in over 50 feet of water.

The three rattled fishermen began walking toward shore and were eventually met and transported by another angler.

Since that day nearly a year ago, George Kasper has barely laid a foot on the ice. It wasn't until recently that he ventured out onto the frozen terrain again. "It was something you have nightmares about," says Kasper.

A diver assisted in extracting the truck two days later. The following Tuesday, Kasper's friend was already driving the 1985 one ton Dodge that had slept on the bottom of Little Pine lake for a few nights.

Kasper says he'll never drive across a lake with a good population of tullibee again. For now, his angling exploits will focus on panfish.

The Minnesota DNR reminds anglers that no ice is 100 percent safe. If traveling across the ice in a vehicle, do not wear a seatbelt, keep the windows rolled down and never wear a personal flotation device while inside an enclosed vehicle.