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Ice Fishing: Once Was Enough

If I want to enjoy some ultra-chilled fish, I’ll go to the frozen food section of the supermarket.

Travel south from our area and you’ll eventually find yourself among people who are very different than us. People who, when they hear the words “ice fishing,” envision retrieving the cubes from their mint julep.

Upon hearing the words “ice shack,” these folks will probably think that the speaker is describing a frozen water warehouse. They might also think that a “block heater” is used to warm up a child’s toy.

Somewhere between here and the Tropic of Cancer, there are people who think that driving a wheeled vehicle upon the surface of a lake would be like saying that pigs can do algebra.

While some of us dislike wintertime, there are those whose happiness is multiplied by the arrival of deeply cold weather. The lower the mercury plummets, the cheerier they become. When the temperature falls to well below zero, they will gleefully exclaim, “It’s making ice!” 

I wonder if they feel a tiny trill of pleasure when they hear the rumble of their refrigerator’s ice machine?

If I want to enjoy some ultra-chilled fish, I’ll go to the frozen food section of the supermarket. I’m guaranteed a catch and I won’t freeze my keister in the process.

There are a lot of people who actually enjoy ice fishing. As far as I’m concerned, they are welcome to it.

I have nothing against ice fisherpersons or the ice fishing religion. In fact, I even tried ice fishing. Once. When I was a teenager.

Grandpa Nelson came to our farm one midwinter afternoon and informed me that an ice fishing derby was being held the next day at a local lake. Would I like to come with him? I didn’t need to be asked twice; any excuse to get out of chores on our dairy farm was a good excuse.

All I knew about hard water fishing was that it involved a hook, line, and sinker. These things were easily obtainable, but what sort of bait should a guy use? I asked around and was told that pork fat was catnip to fat walleyes. I couldn’t find any pork fat in our fridge, so I requisitioned a chunk of raw bacon.

The next morning, Grandpa and I got into his 1965 Ford Fairlane and drove to the lake. Grandpa instructed me to pilot the Fairlane to the boat ramp area, then told me to drive right out onto the water!    

It was eerie to motor across that vast, laser-level expanse. I saw some frozen cracks in the ice and swiftly decided that the best option was to not look down.

The fishing derby was being held out in the middle of the lake. There were dozens of cars and pickups in the derby area, creating the impression that a used car lot had sprung up on the ice. It was jarring to see all those land vehicles on the surface of the water. It was like espying a fleet of boats in the midst of a stubble field.   

I looked at all that vehicular tonnage and tried not to think of how it was being held up by a layer of temporarily crystalized water.

Derby organizers had bored numerous holes in the ice which, I was told, was 3 feet thick. This only reminded me that a mere yard of frozen water was all that separated me from a bitterly cold bath.

Grandpa wandered off to yak with some friends. This had probably been his objective all along. I chose a likely ice hole, jammed a wad of bacon onto my hook and lowered my line. Then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. The fish totally ignored my offering. Just my luck that I would find an area populated by vegetarian fish!

The skies were a deep shade of wintertime sapphire and the winds were calm, but the temperature hovered near absolute zero. Staring at that hole as I stood on that giant block of ice, I wondered how long it would be before my body attained the same temperature as the environment.

Grandpa returned after a while and said it was time to go. He smelled of peppermint schnapps.

I was more than ready. My feet felt like wood, my hands were numb, and that frozen raw bacon was starting to look awfully good.

My first (and only) ice fishing experience could have been better. I would have preferred that it involved someplace warm with a TV and access to hot cocoa. In other words, a place similar to our living room.

And I bet that bacon would have tasted a lot better if it had been cooked.


Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide.

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