Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal
My introduction to ice fishing was traumatic.
You see, I learned the fine points of ice fishing for perch from a bunch of old guys, none of whom could sleep past 5 a.m., spring, summer, fall and especially winter.
Five ayem in the winter is dark. Very dark.
We did our ice fishing on West Lake Okoboji. We stayed in lakefront homes, belonging to friends of the old guys. My entire house would fit in the living rooms of most of them.
I could hear them banging around each morning while I stayed snuggled in my warm sleeping bag. Bill, the cook, would be busy preparing a monstrous breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast and coffee.
Si would yell and ask if I was up.
“Yes,” I would lie, anxious to get just a few moments more in the comfortable bag.
Then, more often than not, Mac would enter the room. Mac was a big guy. He looked like a defensive lineman for the Denver Broncos. He didn’t have to lift weights. He was naturally endowed with strength.
With a belly laugh he would grab my sleeping bag with my 140-pound body in it and shake me out onto the floor. One time he dumped me and the bag into a baby crib that happened to be in the room.
“That’s where you belong,” he laughed.
We were on the ice a full hour before sunrise. Bill would be digging holes with our power auger. I’d be spooning ice out of them and Si would be fishing out of the first hole dug.
Then I’d choose a hole, fill the hook on my Swedish Pimple with maggots, drop it down and begin the wait till dawn.
Every time I’d wonder why we were out there so early, when it was so cold and so dark. I didn’t know much about ice fishing, but I did know this about perch. They go to sleep as soon as it gets dark and don’t get up until the sun penetrates the ice. I’d sit there on my five-gallon, plastic bucket wistfully considering that the yellow perch may be a lot smarter than the guys I was fishing with.
For several years I kept a cartoon hanging on our refrigerator. It showed a guy all bundled up sitting on a bucket on a barren, frozen lake fishing through a hole in the ice.
In the air behind him hovered a flying saucer with two little aliens peering out at him. One says to the other, “Well, there goes all hope of finding intelligent life on this planet.”
I felt the message was in some ways appropriate.
But back to those early years. We were seldom alone out there. Soon after our arrival on the hot spot, other insomniacs would come drifting in, the headlights of their pickups piercing the darkness and the whine of their ice augers shattering the morning stillness like breaking glass.
I’d sit hunched over on my bucket, back to the wind, and glance furtively to the east anxious to see any hint of sunrise. Occasionally, I’d jiggle the Swedish Pimple just in case there might be a walleye swimming by. More often than not, the hole would have frozen over and I would have to break it open with my ice scoop and try to dip out the flakes of ice. Oh well, it was something to do.
When the sun finally would break over the horizon and spill its golden rays through the shoreline trees and onto the wonderland that is a lake in the wintertime, I couldn’t help but soak in the beauty of it all. When that first perch would bite, the day would suddenly seem a little warmer.
We didn’t use depth finders on the ice in those days. We’d find the bottom with our Swedish Pimples and then raise them off the bottom an inch or two and jig them. You had to have confidence that the fish were there.
I was taught to watch the spot where the line enters the water. The bite of a perch in 40 or even 60 feet of water was very difficult to detect. The line and the water would tell you when a perch was mouthing your bait.
If you fish for 10 minutes and don’t get a bite, move. Move a lot until you find a school of fish. That’s why we never fished from the comfort of a permanent ice shack.
I also was taught to remove the treble from the Swedish Pimple and use the small, gold single hook that was provided in the package. The single hook hooked more fish than the treble. Amazing, but true.
Today ice fishing has grown into a big business. Technology has filled the marketplace with so many new products, it is hard to keep up with the latest innovations. Portable ice houses allow you to move often to find the fish. If you want, fish with a camera instead of a depth finder.
It’s no wonder more and more people have taken up ice fishing. Nevertheless when I’m on the ice, I still find myself glancing over my shoulder looking for that flying saucer.
More outdoor information can be found at http://siouxcityjournal.com/sports/recreation/outdoors/