Out on the ice

By Rachelle

“A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of working.”  -Unknown

Time to dust off the ol' fishing rods...

The days are starting to grow longer but winter still has a stranglehold on Wisconsin. While I daydream of spring flowers and summer gardens, I decided it was time to find a new hobby to help occupy my time during the winter months. But what to choose?

My husband has recently fallen head-over-heels for trapping, and, while I admire his passion for the trapline, I just can’t imagine myself trudging through muddy waters and risking falling through a beaver dam in the pursuit of a pelt. So where does that leave me?

That’s when I stumbled upon a newspaper clipping advertising an ice fishing demonstration event being held that weekend at a state park. It’s been years since I’ve last fished, ice or otherwise, and even longer since I’ve fished successfully. As a kid, I always enjoyed sitting out on a pier, watching the sunrise and munching on a fresh doughnut while waiting for a hungry fish to nibble at my line.

Or fishing for perch with my grandfather out on his boat. My sister and I would reel in countless fish, but according to my grandpa, there was never enough for dinner. So, at the end of the day, we took them from the livewell and tossed them back into the lake to live another day. I secretly think he knew my sister and I were grossed out at the prospect of cleaning the fish, so he gave us a pass.

Growing up I went fishing with my grandpa, my parents and my sister, but it was always in the seasons where the sun was shining. I never had anyone even suggest ice fishing. All I knew about ice fishing had been gathered while watching Grumpy Old Men at the drive in. This movie left the impression that ice fishing, although humorous at times, was an old mans’ sport and was just an excuse for being alone and drinking beer. Not something that exactly excited an 8-year-old me.

Now, fast forward some 20 or so years and the idea of sitting alone in an ice shanty with nothing but my thoughts and the hopes of getting a fish on the line are a tad more appealing.

Long story short, after reading the advertisement, I layered up, filled a travel mug to the brim with piping hot coffee, and headed out for my first ice fishing extravaganza. I had high hopes of bagging my limit and having a tasty fish fry for dinner. I realize this was a lot to expect from my first time out, but what can I say? I’m a dreamer.

I arrived at the state park and marveled at the beauty of it all; the snow capped bluffs, evergreens peaking out of every nook, and the… television crew? Turns out they were filming a news segment, and when the camera made a pass past me jigging the line, I attempted to look like I maybe knew what I was doing.

As it turns out, no one out on the ice knew much about what they were doing. This is something I took a sort of comfort in, even if the majority of those attending the event were under the age of 10. We were all there for the same reason, to uncover the mysteries of fishing on the ice.

Fears were overcome as I took my first tentative steps out onto the vast, frozen lake. Although a group of soon-to-be fishers could be seen huddled in the middle of the frozen water, along with a couple of ATVs, images of my booted foot slipping through thin ice flooded my mind with every step. I was relieved when I arrived, safe and sound, to join the group.

With a herd of other onlookers, I watched as an instructor showed kids how to place a wax worm securely onto the hook, how to use a weight to find the bottom of the lake, and demonstrated the proper jigging technique. A fear was realized when a young girl, excited about the prospect of getting a fish, took a step back and slipped her leg right into an open fishing hole. She quickly pulled her leg out and looked to her dad, and, without even a hint of terror in her voice, said “my leg’s pretty wet.” After a quick wardrobe change, the brave little girl was back into the action. However, she didn’t get the payoff of reeling in her first pan fish.

And neither did the rest of us. Turns out the pesky fish had a big breakfast and all the jiggling in the world wasn’t going to entice them to nibble.

But the anticipation of the bite had me hooked, no pun intended. The childhood excitement of not knowing what lies beneath the calm waters flooded back as I eagerly awaited a tug on the line.

After more than two hours of looking through the perfectly round ice hole, staring into the dark depths of the lake at the poor, drowned wax worm on the end of my line, I thought this is something I could get used to.

I like the prospect of sitting quietly out in nature with nothing but my thoughts and, hopefully, hungry fish under the ice.

This winter has been a strange one weather-wise, and spring is just around the corner, so I fear my new found hobby may need to wait until next season. Until then, I’ll spend my time looking up augers, shanties, tipups, jigging rods and skimmers. And of course, what six pack goes best with fried pan fish.

It’s a shame the free ice fishing event didn’t last longer, if I had been there five more minutes, I’m sure I would have had the catch of the day. And one tasty dinner