As we walk on the vast whiteness, hard snow crunches under our boots. The familiar sound of the sled gliding on snow follows our footsteps. Stopping to look around, we ponder where to set up the ice-fishing house. Whiteness spans as far as the eye can see.
After we choose a spot, my brother picks up the ice auger and pulls the cord. The motor starts with a gentle hum and a puff of black smoke billows from the exhaust. He places the sharp silver blade on the clear ice and presses the trigger. Immediately the drill begins to chew through the thick ice. After a few seconds, a perfect circle has been made.
Possibilities run through my mind. Are there any fish down there? Will a monster fish magically appear? What if my Laotian family had been sponsored to France instead of the United States?
I drop the transducer down into the abyss. I see beautiful hues of red and yellow but no green on the flasher. Sadly, the monster fades from my imagination. We pack up and continue the trek.
We walk past some bright yellow snow next to four perfect circles drilled in the ice. My brother gives me a perplexed look. I see his expression and laugh. An explanation would have been in order, but another look and he realizes: One should never eat yellow snow. Looking at each other, we laugh and decide to drill a hole a few feet away.
We drop the transducer into the black hole. Anticipation mounts. Red and yellow flash. Green and orange fuse with the other colors on screen. Some green marks look suspended in the darkness, while others are on the bottom. We quickly set up our ice-fishing house, then drill more holes. With a rod in hand, the lantern burning bright, and the heater turned up high, once again I am warm.
What if a dandy fish bites my bait? Could there be a gem buried somewhere in this watery pasture?
I feel a tug on the end of my rod and set the hook as hard as I can. With the light line and tackle, the creature fights like a lion. The creature appears—a beautiful green-and-black crappie. Is it a letdown? In no way is that my reaction. Feelings of elation pulse through me.
I quickly bait my hook and send it back down on its merry way. When it's halfway down into the void, I witness a green flash on my finder. I stop the bait quickly and jiggle and wait.
I watch intently while the green flash glides up toward my bait, as if flying weightlessly through the sky. Then bang! It hits. I reel. Up from the darkness comes the brightest sunfish I've ever seen. I look over at my brother, and he is grinning from ear to ear.
Still, I wonder, what if there is a sauger waiting for me?
My bait sits on the lake bottom this time. A gentle nudge on the sensitive rod tells me a fish has my bait. The pugnacious fish refuses to cooperate. The drag screams at me, my rod buckling from the weight. A flash of gold glitters from the hole as it swims by. A wonderful tug-of-war ensues. I am finally able to maneuver the head of the fish into the hole. As I reach down to grab the fish, it opens its jaws. A row of razor-sharp teeth is waiting to greet my hand. I pull back in a flash, and with one great whip of its head, the walleye snaps my line.
What if I'd grabbed that fish?
Begrudgingly, I retie my line and drop it into the vastness. A tug pulls me back to reality. The line strains under the weight of this large bass.
I land the fish. My brother takes a picture of the beauty and me. He tries to pass me the phone, but it slips through my fingers. With a plop it sinks, to forever swim with the fishes. We look at each other in disbelief. Chuckling together in horror, we try to enjoy the rest of the day. I take a break to look out the window. The sun is setting. The beauty of the day overwhelms me, and a tear falls from my eye. Colors light up the sky.
What if someone close to me hadn't taken the risk to escape oppression in Laos? To this day, every time we talk about our trip to the lake, it becomes a fisherman's tale.