MINNEAPOLIS -- Maryama Hassan was about 10 minutes into her first ice fishing experience when she reached a discouraging conclusion.
"There are no fish here," the 7th grader pronounced, pointing with authority to the opposite side of Como Lake. "They're all over there."
Just then, Karl Erickson arrived and knelt down next to the hole in the ice. He delivered two important lessons.
The first: "Fishing is 99% being patient." The second was on how to interpret various lights on the display panel of a sonar fish finder.
"See that red line?" he asked. "That's a fish." Then he pointed out a second fish that was approaching the artificial bait being dangled just a few feet away by classmate Asli Ali. The youngsters' exasperation was immediately replaced with anticipation.
Neither fish took the bait, but this isn't a cliched fish story about the big one that got away. Instead, it's about the ones that Erickson has reeled in.
Over the last five winters, he estimates that he has introduced more than 1,100 kids to ice fishing by working with schools, community groups and veterans' family organizations (he served two tours in Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard).
That number includes every student at Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul, where he is a physical education teacher. Starting in January, he has taken the students on fishing excursions, which is how Hassan, Ali and a cadre of their fellow 7th-graders ended up spending a February morning sitting on upside-down plastic pails while intently staring down holes cut into the ice.
"For most of these kids, this is the first time they've ever been ice fishing," Erickson said.
He begins every session by addressing any concerns a newcomer might have.