Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna L. Birkholm

February 1st, 1998

Ice Fishing

Our Man in Canada next week talks a little about ice fishing. And that brought up some old memories. Other than those who may have seen the film, "Grumpy Old Men" ice fishing may be foreign to many. But it is a very old and successful way to catch fish.

In places where cold weather and ice are par for winter, whole villages of tar-paper ice shanties, canvas huts, and the hearty sitting on homemade sled affairs jigging through a hole cut in the ice. In fact, a whole industry of gear, ice augers, and clothing for the ice fisher has evolved.

Growing up on Saginaw Bay, (part of Lake Huron) winter brought all sorts of wonders. I could look out the windows of the glassed-in porch and watch an elderly gentleman skate past the house. In a little while he would come back, propelled by a sail! Several years later I saw the first ice-sailing vessel, which tacked back and forth just like a real sailboat.

Actually, ice shanties can be very comfortable. Dad built a shanty. It had a floor with a hole where the ice would be cut out. It also had a very small pot-bellied stove . . . which memory serving correctly, burned coal. Hot soup, crackers and hard-boiled eggs were lunch on those weekend days on the ice. Perch were plentiful, but were not edible. Terrible pollution of Saginaw Bay had been caused by chemical dumping by Dow Chemical into a tributary of the Saginaw River. If you did cook a fish, the stench was horrible. As I recall this was during World War 2, so free fish would have been a bonus - but no one could eat them. Gratefully, that was corrected many years ago.

The ice fishing we did, was for sport. We fished for pike, certainly well known for their fighting ability. Sitting in the dark shanty, watching the green glow of the water in the hole, waiting for a pike to swim up to investigate the decoy became hypnotic. I suppose like television is to some today.

Decoy? Yes, dad whittled wooden pike fish decoys, painted them and even installed eyes. These were not small, about a foot or so in length, were suspended from another jigging rod by a screw-eye at the proper balance point giving the decoy the most lifelike appearance. Once in a while a perch could be spotted in the distance - not wanting to take a chance of being eaten by the decoy. Wonderful experiences for a kid.

JC got involved in ice fishing for Mackinaw Trout and Kokanee Salmon when we lived on Flathead Lake in Montana. This took a customized sled, auger, electronic fish-finder and a slab of Styrofoam. Oh yes, a thermos of water. (That was in addition to the thermos of coffee or chicken broth.) The thermos of water was to make a puddle on the ice so JC could see if any fish were around before he cut a hole. Fish Finders need water to work. Ice doesn't make it.

The Styrofoam was to lie on, insulation from the ice. Dressed in a snowmobile suit one could stay at least warm. Jigging was the local method for catching trout in the lake, and some of the old timers did use flies. I guess that is done around the world where ice fishing is practiced. I've seen references to "ice flies" and ice-fishing flies in several of the old books. Usually they are the same wet patterns used in normal fishing, but sized smaller.

We lived on Finley Point, and with the spotting scope I could watch JC across the lake at Blue Bay. I checked every so often, mostly because I didn't want to miss anything, and so I could start dinner when he left the ice. Sometimes he caught enough Kokanee for dinner, or to smoke (absolutely grand). They ran about 14 inches in length.

And then there was the day he ran into trouble. He cut his usual hole (after checking to make sure there were fish around) and proceeded to fish. After an hour or so he had a big hit. He said it almost pulled the little rod out of his hands. And the battle was one! This was a big fish. A half-hour later, he finally had the Mackinaw to the hole. But the hole was too small! He couldn't get the huge fish through the hole! Now what?

Try and hold on to the fish without losing it, grab the ice auger and make the hole bigger, and pray a lot! So with one foot on the rod to keep a little pressure on the fish, balancing on the other foot to steady the auger, the hole was slowly, very slowly made larger.

It was dark by the time he landed the fish. But land it he did. Twenty-four pounds of Mackinaw Trout through a hole in the ice. ~ Deanna Birkholm

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