NEBRASKAland December 2018

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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Page 27 of 59

28 NEBRASKAland • DECEMBER 2018 D on Cox of Mullen clearly remembers 28 years ago. He was at Pelican Lake on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge ice-fishing with his brother-in-law, Dave Fehlhafer, near an angler they nicknamed Red Man. While Red Man was catching some of the largest bluegill Don has ever seen, Don and Dave weren't doing so well, spending most of the time second-guessing their tackle and technique. Nowadays, Don doesn't do a lot of second-guessing. An ice-fishing diehard with a number of tournament wins and thousands of hours on the ice, he's ready to adjust at a moment's notice, yet patient with the process that has allowed him so much success thus far. Yet he has one goal that still evades him – and it goes back to that stranger on the ice so many years ago on Pelican Lake. Soon, he thinks, he might just have a chance to achieve it. Hooked On New Year's Day in 1990 – several weeks before his first trip to Pelican – Don awoke to a bucket of fish on his front porch caught by brother-in-law Dave. Despite ice-fishing sparingly as a child with his father and great uncle, he found himself intrigued. That afternoon, Don and Dave went to Calamus Reservoir, which was supporting 16 inches of ice they had to cut with a dull, spoon hand auger that could only manage about two inches of ice per minute. They were fishing with two tip-ups and a makeshift outfit that used a tree branch as the rod. "I caught one largemouth bass through the ice that New Year's Day, but it changed my life forever." He was so hooked, in fact, that despite a ranching income that at the time was about half the state's poverty level, he talked his wife into giving up the $25 entry fee for he and Dave to enter the Valentine Jaycees Ice-Fishing Tournament at Merritt Reservoir. "It guaranteed $5,000 in cash and prizes, and we thought about how much fishing equipment we could buy if we won the tournament." After a series of mishaps that included navigating one-way roads and disposing of a mule deer that had been hit by another driver's van – all to avoid the motel cost of staying in Valentine for the night – they arrived 40 minutes late to their moneymaker. It took them an hour and a half to cut two holes apiece, and their newly bought rods didn't have enough line to get down to the 45 feet they needed to fish. They had no lunch, no water, and the beer in their system from the pre- Search for the Heyday Story and photos by Jeff Kurrus

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