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Outing at Panguitch Lake about more than fishing

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but there are times when the viewer knows there is more to the story than that single moment in time captured with the push of a button.

Such was the case when I was shown a photo of 12-year-old Austin Jenkins proudly holding a plump, snow-covered rainbow trout up for the camera. Though his fingers were turning that pinkish-red color that comes with the cold, Austin did not seem to mind. Not with his broad smile expressing both the joy and the relief he felt at that moment.

He had come all the way from South Carolina to pull that fish through the ice at Utah’s Panguitch Lake, long a popular fishing destination for Las Vegas anglers. More than that, however, he had come to catch that fish during “Man Camp.”

Austin’s fish story had its beginnings generations ago when his fourth great-grandfather herded sheep in the mountains near Panguitch Lake and acquired a nearby spot of land somewhere along the way. Over the years, ownership of that land passed from one generation to the next. Then one day Austin’s great-grandmother suggested the family, which by then was established in Las Vegas, do something with the property.

The family, said Austin’s father Lee Jenkins, voted to build a cabin, a project that was completed about 21 years ago. “Ever since then we’ve had this tradition that Presidents Day weekend all the guys in the family – and you have to be at least 12 years old – all head up for the ice fishing trip,” Jenkins said.

That annual gathering came to be known as Man Camp, and though it is billed as an ice fishing event, Jenkins said it is about much more than fishing.

“This trip is just about camaraderie and the friendships and everything, and a lot of it’s family,” he explained.

Some years, they have had as many as 20 people attend the event, and they come various places and distances to get there. The Lee Jenkins family has lived in Arizona, California and now South Carolina, but he still attends Man Camp each year. His older boys have been joining for a while, but this year was Austin’s first.

“The funny thing is Austin’s the one that’s been wanting to go since the beginning. Even before my oldest was able to go, Austin was the one who would talk about it every year. He’s always the most excited about going,” Jenkins said.

When it comes to ice fishing, the men in camp take it as seriously as they do their card games. Everybody puts three one-dollar bills into a cereal box. The person who catches the first fish, the biggest fish or the most fish gets a dollar from everybody. But the grand prize is the “Holey Ladle,” a big metal spoon used for keeping holes in the ice open for fishing.

The angler who catches the most fish gets his name etched into the metal ladle along with the cash prize.

After drilling his hole through the ice, Austin baited up with a cooked shrimp that his grandfather had left soaking in a bag with raw shrimp to enhance the bait’s scent. Soon after dropping the bait through his hole in the ice, Austin felt a tug on his line. When he reeled in his catch, it measured 15¾ inches and turned out to be the biggest fish of the day.

“I kind of like it better than regular fishing because I get to be right over the hole,” Austin said of his first ice fishing adventure. “It wasn’t too cold because I was wearing my snow stuff.”

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com

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