Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Hole in the Ice and Frozen Fish


My cousin John McNew on a southern Iowa farm pond.. with blue gill and crappie

In days of yore I went ice-fishing in February, with a couple of Wisconsin friends who had access to an ice-fishing shack out on a frozen lake.  It was a little city of a dozen shanty’s that looked a bit like Ozark storage sheds. Most had pickups parked behind them… a little scary to someone who was accustomed to weak ice at the best; back in the Ozarks. Inside was a good-sized hole in the ice and chairs and a heat stove up off the ice.  All around the hole there were rugs and chairs and the fishing rods were only about 2 or 3 feet long.

Thanks to the stove, we stayed warm, and about every ten minutes one of us would haul in a respectable crappie or walleye.  There were a couple of northern pike caught too, 18 or 20 inches long. I wouldn’t say it was the best fishing I ever had in the north country, but it was fun, and I went back a couple of times just so I could be with those friends doing something that seemed ridiculous when I first heard about it.  

I’ll bet that ice was 2 feet thick, and every 30 minutes or so someone had to dip out ice to keep it from refreezing in the augured out hole.

Then a couple of years later, it was a really cold winter in southern Iowa and I joined two of my cousins to fish a couple of Iowa ponds on which there was a layer of ice that didn’t look all that strong.  They laughed at me when I tied a rope around my waist and tied the other end to my pick-up bumper next to the pond.  I wasn’t taking any chances because I had seen those two get into some fixes at times, ever since we were kids.

They had a gas powered ice auger, those short rods and mealworms for bait that looked to be about the size of rice grains.

We were bundled up enough to not get cold, and built a warming charcoal fire right out there on the ice in a big bucket with sand in    the bottom, which seemed a sort of dangerous thing to do… but it didn’t melt the ice.  And we hauled huge crappie and bluegill out of that ice hole, one every few minutes.  In just a minute or two every fish laid out on the ice quit flopping and in time we had 40 or 50 of them.  

We ate them that night and I don’t think I ever tasted panfish that were that good.  Everyone says that about fish caught through the ice, even the northern pike.  Both my cousins, brothers who smoked heavily and drank enough beer to fill a nice pond in southern Iowa, died when they were only 59.  But they knew how to have fun, and we hunted and fished in southern Iowa for a lot of years.  In February, there was nothing to hunt, so we fished through the ice.

I would give anything to do it again, just about anywhere.  And I am thinking, with what is happening now in Missouri and Arkansas, and Kansas that it might just be a good time to try it.  All I have to do is fix up one of my old broken rods to be about 3-feet long, and find someplace that sells mealworms!

I want to remind everyone who likes to read my outdoor magazine that our spring issue will be out in March.  If you want to get a copy sent to you, they are still mailed from our printer for 5 dollars each, but the list of people to get a copy has to be turned in to them the first week of March.  If you miss that first mailing, we have to add 3 dollars in postage.  So call my secretary, Ms. Wiggins, if you want to get the cheaper price. The number is 417 777 5227. She can also help you get a copy of the other magazine, Journal of the Ozarks, the same way. You can see the magazines and my 10 books on my website, You can send the five dollars by mail, Lightnin’ Ridge, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. And you can send the five dollars by mail, to Lightnin’ Ridge, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.  Don’t nobody get to thinkin’ I live in town.  I live out in the country ten miles from town, looking out across a wide river valley through the oaks and hickories that grow high on my ridgetop, where it is always ten degrees warmer in the winter and ten degrees cooler in the summer, and wild birds and other creatures play in the snow around the corn feeder.  Right now I have to go split some more farr-wood for the cook-stove so I can boil a rabbit for supper.

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