It’s funny how things run in cycles. This past week was a perfect example of that. I had an unusual amount of folks ask me if I ice fish. At first, that would seem like a relatively easy question to answer. For my answer to make sense to them though requires a more detailed explanation than just a simple yes or no.
Many years ago, when I was just a young kid, my grandfather owned a cabin along the backwaters of the Mississippi River. This cabin was located in Keithsburg. To a youngster it seemed like it was in another universe. We would go down in the summer and fish, play cards, cookout, have a fire; it was quite awesome for a kid.
One winter my grandfather and dad wanted to go down to the cabin to go ice fishing. We did. Early the next morning as the adults prepared the equipment, I readied myself by putting on a thousand layers of clothes. It took forever. My diligence finally was rewarded with an overbearing, uncomfortable, sweltering heat that caused my inner layers to become saturated with sweat. So far this was a lot more work than drowning worms in the summer sun.
Eventually we were ready. I trudged behind grandpa and my dad. If you never have ice fished before, you would be quick to notice that the equipment an ice fisherman uses is much different that a warm-water angler. The fishing poles are so small. The hooks are impossibly tiny and the bait was tiny, too. Grandpa also toted a giant soup-ladle-looking-thing that I would later learn was used to skim the ice out of the holes so they didn’t freeze back up.
The most interesting ice fishing gadget was the ice auger. I had seen others carrying around big, gas-powered versions that violently tore through the crystal surface in short order. We had a hand auger.
I watched as grandpa turned and turned that twisted blade until he finally punched through to the murky, cold, water below. It was, at this point, that I was wondering where our nice ice hut was. I had seen some that popped up like a tent and kept the anglers out of the wind. How nice that would be. Grandpa then handed me a bucket.
Is this to put the fish in that I catch, I wondered? “Here,” grandpa huffed, “this is to sit on.” So much for the ice hut idea.
We started out all relatively close to each other. Dad hovered over his hole, grandpa sat by his and I stared down into my icy abyss. I soon realized there is this natural phenomenon that occurs when ice fishing. The anglers slowly, over the course of a day, spread out from horizon to horizon.
At one point, I looked up from my frozen focal-point and looked left. No grandpa. I looked right. No dad. I’m sure they weren’t that far away but when your eyes are caked with ice, it’s hard to judge distances.
After I had the self-realization that I might be alone; I heard a sound. It was a sound that was new to me. I flipped through folder after folder in my mental file cabinet and couldn’t recall any previous experiences that would tell me what that sound was. It scared me.
The noise, creaked, cracked and rifled its way through the ice. Off to one side this menacing noise quickly was approaching.
In seconds it had traveled through the ice, right under me, and off into the distance the other direction.
To this day, that bucket, pole and ice-scoop might be sitting at the bottom of those backwaters right where I left them.
As fast as a boy can run who is swelled with clothing like a giant tick, I waddled to the shore. I looked back at that ice with terror in my eyes. What had just happened?
Many years after this incident that is scarred into my mind, I found out that the horrific sound was in fact a good sound. The ice was getting thicker. That would have been nice to know.
To get back to my answer to the question of whether I ice fish – no.
I have had many invitations to go. I know lots of folks who are die-hard ice anglers, I have even sold lots of ice fishing equipment to retails stores in the past, but I just never have been back.
Maybe I will again someday. Until then, good luck to those of you that brave that frozen frontier of fishing.