Out & about: In search of frozen surfaces

Ice fishing can be a fun, family affair.

Far across the lake I could see a small group of people huddled together out on the ice, like an Arctic scene from a National Geographic special. Although it was probably only a ten minute walk from where I parked, it seemed like it would be five-mile trek across the frozen tundra. Was I getting soft? Too old to venture out in the cold temps and try my hand at some ice fishing? I wonder if they were catching anything. Too many questions were floating around in my head. Just get your stuff on, grab your gear and go, I told myself. Besides, I drove almost two hours to be here, and spent an entire, previous weekend inspecting every piece of ice fishing equipment I owned.

Ice fishing is a hard core winter activity. It takes a certain kind of person to dress up in approximately thirteen, layers of insulated clothing, head outside into sub-freezing temperatures and stand all day on a large chunk of ice waiting for a fish to decide if it wants to swim under you and tease you by nibbling on your bait or lure. Once you arrive at your destination you then drag a sled full of gear across a frozen lake or pond and begin drilling holes into the same ice youre standing on. As one, non-ice fishing friend of mine joked to me, Why do you go ice fishing when you have perfectly good ice right in your freezer?

By my early descriptions, no one in their right mind would ever try ice fishing. But if youre a dedicated, enthusiastic angler living in the northern part of the U.S., at some point in your life you need to experience the thrill of hard water fishing! Like other types of fishing, if the fish are biting it can be loads of action and lots of fun!

Ice fishing is a simple outdoor pursuit, and one you can get started with a fairly low budget. The most expensive piece of necessary equipment is probably the auger, or drill, to get you through the ice to the water. Yes, there is actually unfrozen water under the frozen water. You just need the right tool to open it up. One piece of advice from an experienced hand auger ice angler-find out how thick the ice is where youre planning on fishing, before you arrive!

To be safe, ice fishermen should have a minimum of four inches of ice under them. How can you tell if its thick enough? When you arrive at your destination look for other ice fisherman out on the ice! Ice fishing is one of the few types of fishing that tends to be a social gathering. They usually congregate together. However, if we happen to experience an extended period of below freezing temps, the ice can become much thicker. Thick ice equals a bit more work drilling holes by hand. On more than one occasion Ive chosen lakes which had ice much thicker than I anticipated. Ten inches of ice may not seem like much, but when youre planning on drilling a series of holes, ten inches can seem like ten feet. Several years ago while on a trip up north, I arrived at a small lake that I had heard was producing good catches of perch and bass. I should have known when I glanced out across the lake to see only five other ice fishermen and heard the familiar buzzing sound of gas-powered augers. I slowly trudged out on the lake, dropped my gear, kicked away the four inch layer of snow and proceeded to drill. Twenty-five minutes later I discovered water under nearly 16 inches of ice. The air temperature was a frigid 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but I think my body temperature was about 150 degrees! Sweating like I just ran a marathon with my shoulders and arms aching, I vaguely remember peeling off almost all my clothes as I sat exhausted by my one hole-my one, beautiful deep, ice fishing hole. Thoughts of where I was going to drill my series of holes had drifted away after the first 15 minutes. I proudly fished that small, dark abyss for nearly two hours, guarding it like a lion protecting its fresh kill. No fish had passed within my zip code. I glanced back at my van realizing I had only walked out on the lake about 100 yards. Disappointed? Not really. By that time it didnt really matter much. My face was pretty much numb and all my previous, hot perspiration was now beginning to chill me into a freeze pop. It was time to leave. At the end of the day it was fish under the ice-1, frozen, tired ice fisherman-0! But Ill be back another day, searching for other frozen surfaces and be ready to drill my ice fishing hole.