SOMEWHERE ON DEVILS LAKE -- Getting to this fishing spot, a shoreline with a proven history of producing walleyes through the ice late in the day, had taken some doing for Mark Bry and the SnoBear tracked vehicle he was driving.
Down a ditch. Through a slough. Over pressure ridge after pressure ridge after pressure ridge and even across a highway.
All in a day's work for Bry, a Grand Forks middle school teacher and Devils Lake fishing guide, and Steve Kennedy, a Manvel, N.D., native who helps Bry in the winter.
The mercury had risen to a balmy 1 below zero, and the sun was shining for the first time in what seemed like forever, so there was a sense of optimism as we lowered our jigs through about 14 inches of ice to the bottom of the lake some 12 feet below.
"I will say two days ago we marked a lot of fish here and caught a fair amount," Bry said. "Maybe they'll show up."
The plan, Bry said, was to follow the fish in the SnoBear -- basically a mobile fish house on tracks -- as they worked their way into shallow water, which Devils Lake walleyes commonly do late in the day.
The bite had been "tricky" the past couple of days, he said, although walleyes were cooperating better than the perch that were giving anglers fits on the main part of Devils Lake.
"We've done pretty well this year considering everything around us," Bry said. "It's not 'bang-bang-bang,' it's two or three fish here and make a move.
"It is what it is -- you've just got to keep fishing and work hard."
Braving the cold
Rather than fish in the heated comfort of the SnoBear, Bry and Kennedy braved the elements in hopes of improving their odds for encountering walleyes.
As Rick Dees' "American Top 40" counted down the top songs of 2014 -- none of which were even vaguely familiar to fiftysomething ears -- on a local FM station playing inside the SnoBear, Bry and Kennedy stood outside in the cold and were rewarded with just enough walleyes to make the experience bearable.
Inside the SnoBear, not so much. The last unfamiliar song of 2014 had ended, and "Animal," the 2009 hit by the U.S. band Neon Trees, was playing on the radio when a big red blip showed up on the electronics signaling a fish below.
Tentatively, the fish approached the jigging spoon as lyrics that had nothing to do with fishing -- but still fit what was happening below the ice -- came through the speakers:
"Oh oh, I want some more.
"Oh oh, what are you waiting for?"
The walleye wanted none of it.
For whatever reason, the walleyes were more cooperative outside the SnoBear so Bry moved the vehicle into shallower water and soon had two holes drilled through openings in the floor, a process that maybe took two minutes.
This time, he stayed inside to thaw frozen fingers.
"There's a fish," he said, as a blip showed up on his electronics. This fish wasn't waiting for anything, and Bry's rod quickly buckled over from the weight.
"That one came in and just wailed it," he said, as the 16-inch walleye joined a handful of others in the bottom of the bucket. "Got any buddies down there? Let's get a few more of those."
A Devils Lake fishing guide since 2001, Bry recently launched a new venture, purchasing the former Center for Solutions drug and alcohol rehabilitation center east of Devils Lake along U.S. Highway 2. The 10-acre site includes a house that accommodates as many as 14 people and a heated shop that doubles as a fish-cleaning facility.
Bry calls the business "Fish Rehab Lodge and Bry's Guide Service," a name he says has nothing to do with the facility's former use.
"It wasn't anything like that," he said. "I just didn't want it to be like Pine Acres or Sunset View or whatever. There are so many of those out there.
"We all could use a little break from whatever in our life, and fishing is my fix in life. This is what I do. I just live for it."
The lodge, built in 1980, has a large dining area and living room and bedrooms both upstairs and downstairs that can accommodate multiple groups. People who fish with him often asked about lodging, Bry said, and now he can offer that, whether they hire a guide or fish on their own.
Guests bring their own food and cook their own meals.
"We're not a hotel -- I don't think of us as a hotel at all," Bry said. "It's not a bed and breakfast, but more along the lines of something like that. You come here, do your own thing, get away from town, and if you want to clean your own fish, we have a cleaning table in the shop for you to do that, but we can help you, too."
The location, he says, offers convenient access to anywhere on the lake. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for kicking back and telling stories after a day on the lake, perhaps with an evening fish fry.
"I think the main thing is now, you can just stay with us," Bry said. "I think the experience is better, too, because we can come back and do the fish fries for our groups. They can socialize. We can do all that part of it where we never could before.
"There aren't a lot of things like this that I've seen on Devils Lake," he added. "When I saw this, I thought, 'hmmm, this could work.' Then I had to make it work for the checkbook."
That was a scary plunge to take, he said.
"That's how it is with anything," Bry said. "Everything I've done has been scary at some point in time. I think we can make this work, I really do. I'm really excited."
On the move
The fishing was just fast enough to keep things interesting, and Bry followed the walleyes into shallower water by moving the SnoBear every few minutes.
An auger mounted to a 36-volt Dewalt drill inside the SnoBear chewed a 4-inch hole through the ice in seconds.
Darkness had descended and the cold finally drove Kennedy inside the SnoBear, but a few blips continued to show up on the electronics.
"Let's fish another 15," Bry said. The strategy produced a 21½-inch walleye, the biggest of the afternoon.
"Persistence is the key in life," he said.
By the time Bry steered the SnoBear back toward Fish Rehab Lodge -- over pressure ridge after pressure ridge after pressure ridge, across a highway, through a slough and back up a ditch -- 10 chunky walleyes had found their way into the bottom of the bucket.
Not bad for about 2½ hours of fishing on a bone-chillingly cold day.
"I'll take that considering the bite today," Bry said."Nothing wrong with it."
Bry says he's hoping for similar results with Fish Rehab Lodge.
"We'll make it work," he said. "We'll work hard."
On the Web: brysguideservice.com.