We welcome Ashlee Lundvall to The WON, with a monthly column sponsored by Mace. Ashlee is the former Ms. Wheelchair USA and travels the country, inspiring others as an outdoor ambassador. For her first column, she attended the Women’s Ice Angler Project. By the way, I just finished reading Ashlee’s book, “A Redefined Life, Lessons from a Pitchfork.” Watch for a review soon. Eye opening.~BB
When a group of strong, independent women join in a common cause, amazing things can happen. This was never more true than during the third annual Women’s Ice Angler Project this past February on Lake Mille Lacs near Isle, Minnesota.
This was my first ice-fishing adventure, and I was a bit hesitant. While I love any opportunity to be outdoors, there is something about being on a frozen lake in the bitter cold that causes my control freak nature to inwardly cringe. I am truly passionate about trying new activities, and it was an honor to be asked to join the team, so my reluctance was soon outweighed by my love for a challenge. I couldn’t be happier that it did.
I arrived at McQuoid’s Lodge on Wednesday evening, just in time for dinner. While I had never actually met any of the other ladies in person, we had been corresponding via social media over the past several months, and I was excited to begin what I hoped would be several new friendships. The team leader, Barb Carey, had interviewed me on the Great Wild Radio Show in 2015, and she was the one who had invited me to participate. Barb is a woman who exudes capability. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, you want her on your side. She introduced me to the other six women on the team, and we sat down to finalize a game plan for the next day.
The Women’s Ice Angler Project is a media event designed to bring awareness to ice fishing and encourage more women to get involved in the sport. As with other outdoor activities, ice fishing is male-dominated, and it can be intimidating for ladies to take part without support from other females. The women on my team are at the top of their game, with most being pro staff for Clam, Vexilar and other fishing companies. That night at McQuiod’s, as they discussed what gear to pack and which parts of the lake we wanted to fish, I felt as if they were speaking a foreign language. Fortunately for me, they were incredibly patient and excited to share their knowledge. Women are natural mentors, and these ladies loved that I was an “ice newbie.” Confident that I was in good hands, I accepted my blue bucket full of gear I didn’t yet understand and headed to bed.
We left the next morning, as the sun was beginning to stretch its lazy rays across the freezing air. Thankfully, I was bundled in my Clam Ice Armor Lift Parka and Bibs, Volt heated fleece and Cabela’s Polar Weight base layers. I quickly learned my first lesson in safety as we approached the frozen lake. From the passenger seat of my SUV, Shantel Wittstruck, also new to the team, unbuckled my seat belt and reconnected it behind my back. “This makes it easier to get out of the vehicle if we go through the ice, and it also keeps the belt alarm from ringing as we drive,” she told me, and the seriousness of the situation started to sink in. The orange safety ice picks hanging around our necks suddenly seemed heavier. While I was instantly more sober about approaching the water, I was also grateful for the calm reassurance I heard in her voice. Some might shrink away from the danger and hard work involved, but this team of women stressed preparedness and safety education. They were aware of the potential danger, but they didn’t let it stop them from seeking out a chance to learn and grow.
We spent the next three days on the ice. I was taught how to pitch a Clam ice shelter, read a Vexilar system to find fish, and drill a hole in the ice with an auger. I learned the difference between a minnow and a wax worm, and that some fish are drawn in by pounding the lure on the bottom of the lake, while others prefer bait that is completely still. I watched as women shared water depth information and encouraged each other toward a successful catch, and then celebrated wildly as another friend pulled in a large walleye. I even experienced crossing my first pressure crack with a homemade bridge and the resourcefulness of a team of amazing ladies.
I didn’t land a single fish on my first ice-fishing experience. I had a few on the line, but in the end, they slipped off my hook. But that isn’t what I will remember about this experience. I will take with me the memories of new friendships, the empowering feeling of women working toward a common goal and the exhilaration of knowing that at the end of the day, the only limitations we face are the ones we put on ourselves. There are definitely no limitations on the impact the Women’s Ice Angler Project is having, and will continue to have, on generations of women anglers to come.
Ashlee Lundvall writes a blog titled "Redefining Life," sponsored by Mace Brand, that follows her rise from a debilitating injury as a teenager to Ms. Wheelchair USA in 2013. Her first book, "A Redefined Life," was released in February of 2016, and she was recently invited to join the National Pro Staff for Mossy Oak and the NRA’s Disabled Shooting Sports committee. Ashlee is also the recipient of the 2017 SCI Foundation Pathfinder Award. Ashlee truly shines as a keynote speaker at outdoor industry and disability related events and conferences. She is passionate about mentoring newly injured patients, and loves to pass on her love for adapted outdoor recreation! View all posts by Ashlee Lundvall