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Wisconsin guide Hudson remembered for love of outdoors

Posted on January 31, 2013

Jim HudsonBayfield, Wis. — Lake Superior coldly claimed the life of one of her biggest fans and supporters on Saturday, Jan. 26, when Jimmy Hudson’s snowmobile went through the ice on the South Channel.

Hudson, 34, a well-known – and well liked – Bayfield fishing guide succumbed to frigid waters despite determined rescue efforts by fishing partners and La Pointe ice rescue volunteers.

One of his fishing partners, John Esposito, of Ashland, saw Hudson go through the ice and quickly put himself in harm’s way in an attempt to rescue Hudson. Esposito pulled Hudson to the edge of the broken ice, but the ice broke and he went in himself in trying to pull Hudson to safety.

Esposito, according to a number of sources, was wearing a float suit and was able to get back onto the ice. He pulled Hudson to the edge of the ice one more time, but Esposito went in a second time when the ice under him broke again.

A dripping Esposito then raced back to their fishing group, asked another friend to call 911, then returned by snowmobile to continue rescue efforts.

Five members of the La Pointe Volunteer Fire Department ice rescue team responded with the team’s ice rescue airboat. The La Pointe crew took the call at 1:07 p.m., according to Mick Brennen, Ashland County sheriff. Jay Wiltz, one member of the ice rescue team, said the crew had the GPS coordinates from Hudson’s fishing partners and headed straight for that site. Brennen said the crew pulled Hudson from the water at 1:38 p.m. Wiltz said the rescue team took Hudson straight to the Bayfield lake access and performed CPR the entire way. They were met at the landing by the Bayfield EMS crew and Bayfield Fire Department paramedics.

Hudson was transported to Ashland’s Memorial Medical Center and then flown to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where he was pronounced dead.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimated the water temperature was about 33 degrees that day.

According to a number of sources, Hudson broke through the ice in a area that’s known locally as the South Channel between Houghton Point and Long Island. Hudson was not near any land mass when he broke through the ice. The GPS coordinates put him between Madeline Island, the mainland, and Long Island.

“We knew where we were heading and there were also two groups of fishermen. One group appeared to be in distress. We headed towards that group,” Wiltz said. “Conditions were really bad (when they reached Hudson). The ice that we could see was no thicker than an inch. It’s hard to say how large of an area was bad – we broke ice with the wind sled and there was broken ice and open water where we found Jim.”

Estimates of the amount of time Hudson was in the water range from about 30 minutes to about one hour.

Sources say Hudson was guiding a group of six to seven clients from Indiana that day. Esposito and another local fisherman were also with the group. Two Oneida County (Wis.) fishermen who were friends of Hudson’s were fishing in the area at the time, but not with Hudson’s group.

Those two men, as well as other sources, said Hudson had his clients on safe ice. Hudson had been scouting ice conditions almost daily and had fished that particular spot the previous day, on Friday, Jan. 25, and knew he had a minimum of 8 solid inches of ice from shore to that area. On Saturday, Jan. 26, Hudson, Esposito, another local fisherman and the clients used the Washburn access and traveled about eight miles to the fishing spot.

The Oneida County fishermen, Jeff Taege and Jeff Koser, both of Rhinelander, also used the Washburn landing.

As Hudson was being transported to Ashland, Taege, Koser and the fishermen in Hudson’s group raced to the Ashland hospital to wait for word on Hudson’s condition.

“We launched, along with Jim, at Washburn, so when we heard what happened, his crew, and us, loaded up and went to the Ashland hospital and waited,” Taege said.

But not before they offered some spiritual assistance to Hudson while they were still out on the ice.

“Tommy Hicks was in Jimmy’s group. Tommy made the 911 call,” Koser said.

Hicks informed everyone in the group that Hudson had been pulled from the water and was nonresponsive.

“Tommy was a wreck. We all were. I asked if there were any Christians in the group. We gathered around and said a prayer, trying to pull him through this,” Koser said.

It didn’t take long for the loss of Hudson to reach his close and extended group of friends. Tweets and Facebook messages came rolling in to Hudson’s wife, Hannah, other family members, and to Hudson’s friends and colleagues in the fishing world.

Hudson worked closely with the staff at River Rock Bait Shop in Ashland, Wis., and with the Clam Corporation in Medina, Minn. Hudson was a member of Clam’s Ice Team, where he spent much of his time teaching novices and veterans alike ice-fishing techniques.

One of his close associates at Clam is Nick Chiodo, director of marketing at Clam Outdoors  in Medina.

“I don’t think there are words to describe what many of us are feeling,” Chiodo said. “Jimmy was a big part of the family over here at Clam. He was always so careful. It wasn’t that he was disrespecting the body of water that took him … this sucks.

“Jimmy was well known in the fishing community, not only locally, but everywhere. I’ve been here at Clam for four-plus years and he was already working with us at that time. He was involved on many different fronts – researching products, on the Ice Team sharing knowledge with new and current ice anglers, there was nothing but upside for him. Jimmy was always there and willing to help … you could always count on him. Everybody liked him. It’s hard to find (those qualities) in people. It takes quite the individual. He will be missed, no doubt about it.

“He had a great deal of respect amongst his peers (in the fishing industry). I’m glad that he was able to experience (working his dream job) for the time that he did,” Chiodo said. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s just hard to lose a person of that caliber.”

Taege and Koser also said Hudson had great respect for Lake Superior and its ability to humble mortals.

“The ice was 8 (inches) and more. We never saw less than 8 inches,” Taege said. “Jeff and I had been planning on going for two to three weeks. Jim recommended I didn’t come because of cracks and questionable ice. He was always cautious. Despite knowing how much I wanted to go up there, he said no, don’t come up yet.

“I don’t think he was taking a risk. His fishermen were safe. I think he was caught off-guard.”

Hudson normally had a Nebulus inflatable life raft on his snowmobile, as well as an inflatable vest on his person. That day, because he was returning to a known area, he removed he raft and other safety gear so he could ride clients double on his snowmobile.

Once the group was set up and fishing, Hudson and Esposito did go scout other ice areas and were ready to return to the group. That’s when Hudson saw some friends fishing toward Madeline Island.

He was going to dash over there and visit with them for a few minutes, and then return to his group. His snowmobile broke through the ice over the South Channel as he headed toward his friends.

“It’s a hard deal,” Taege said. “Jim had become quite a close friend over the last two years. We did a lot of fishing together, spoke frequently. It’s a horrible loss for his wife, Hannah, and the fishing world.”

Taege was one of many friends who witnessed a loving relationship shared by Hudson and his wife. Many of Hudson’s friends wished – and often stated as much – that they could be as fortunate as the Hudsons in that respect.

“It was so obvious that their love was so genuine and coming from both sides. That was always nice to see when so often it’s just the opposite in other situations,” Taege said.

“The thing that amazes me is the outpouring – the mourning going on Facebook and other social media. I considered him a friend and there are hundreds and hundreds of people who feel the same way.

I think everyone who knew him considered him a friend and that’s a testament to his personality and willingness to help people. It says a lot about the guy. He was a special young man,” Taege said.

“At no point did Jim put his clients at risk,” Koser said. “He wasn’t a risk taker – he was very safe. It just blew me away that you can be on a piece of ice like that and see so far – we could see Ashland,

Washburn, Bayfield and La Pointe – and be competely unaware that one of your buddies was out there fighting for his life. Something like that can happen so fast and you’re completely unaware of it.”

“The response from friends and families is a good testament to the impact Jimmy had on so many people. He made a big impact on a whole bunch of people,” Koser said.

Click here to read Tim Lesmeister's blog about Jim Hudson.

Steve Piatt blogged about Jim Hudson, and you can read it here.

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