SPOONER — Although the morning weather forecast called for brisk and sunny weather, young ice fishermen on the Yellow River flowing through Spooner had to settle for brisk. The sun was hidden behind clouds, but nobody seemed to mind.

It was the 14th annual holiday celebration called AAA Sportshop Youth Ice Fishing Funday in Spooner. It was time to enjoy the Wisconsin outdoors.

Funday is becoming a winter tradition in the North. Each year in Spooner, Rick Anderson, owner of AAA Sportshop, hosts the free event to help introduce youngsters to the joys of ice fishing and spending time outdoors.

Anderson not only runs the sportshop, he lives the lifestyle. A hunting, trapping and fishing enthusiast, Anderson also guides fishing excursions in Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. The shop sells everything from waxies and leeches to blackpowder supplies and docks.

On Ice Fishing Funday, however, business and sales gave way to fun and education of future young ice fishermen. Anderson almost glowed as he took on the role of everybody’s favorite grandpa, providing the kids with an entire day’s worth of free fishing, tip-ups, bait, buckets, jig poles and even a tasty lunch of fresh fish cooked right on the ice of the Yellow River. He also offered valuable tips, information and advice to the young people and their parents who might have been getting their first experience in the outdoors.

“I love this,” he said, looking out at the happy kids on the ice. It was before noon, and already a good number of kids and their parents were on the ice. “This is great, I love doing things like this. This is a good crowd today, probably 30 kids right now. I’d say another 10 or so have been here and left so far.”

Anderson had pre-drilled many holes on the ice, and as the kids showed up he guided them to good spots. And it paid off. The kids brought numerous crappies, bluegills, pumpkin seeds, northern pike and perch up to the table for cleaning and cooking.

“This isn’t a contest,” he stressed. It was only for fun, and it was easy to see that this kids were having a lot of it.

In the previous 13 years of the Youth Ice Fishing Funday, almost every type of weather imaginable had been experienced.

“We’ve had -26 degrees, and 45 degrees above zero when everything was melting,” Anderson said. “We’ve had rain, sunshine, snow, every scenario in 14 years.”

Usually held on Spooner Lake, the event this year was switched to the Yellow River Flowage due to better ice conditions. Easier to get to, and with plenty of parking at the nearby Spooner Veterans Memorial Waterfront Park, the move received rave reviews and prompted some to wish that it returns to that location again next year.

“We’ve had good times at Spooner Lake too,” Anderson said. “But this is working out well.”

“Flag!”

As someone sounded the alarm, excited youngsters would race across the ice to reel in a flopping northern pike or colorful pumpkin seed. The smiles on their rosy red faces were priceless.

It was like a mid-winter celebration. Dogs ran and played in the snow, tumbling through the drifts. Old friends talked about the deep snow and when spring might come. Conversations included how the snow might impact deer and turkeys, area and state sports teams, winter ice fishing in general.

Meanwhile, Anderson was busy preparing fish for the afternoon lunch. Cooked within moments of being caught, the kids, their parents and grandparents got to experience the delight of the freshest fish possible … by any measure, a meal fit for a king.

Anderson also prepared potatoes for the feast, tossing them into the bubbling vat and pulling them out moments later, golden brown and delicious. For the rare times when fish wasn’t yet cooked, there were free hotdogs and sloppy joes, along with tasty hot chocolate and cookies.

It was a northwestern Wisconsin delight, a day spent outdoors without personal computers, smart phones or other electronic devices getting in the way. The air was brisk and formed clouds of white breath as the happy kids laughed, played on the ice and excitedly pulled in their fish.

In an age when a lot of kids don’t take the time to get outside anymore, AAA Ice Fishing Funday did a great job of showing them just what a fantastic time they had been missing.

Thornley is sports editor of the Spooner Advocate.