Okay, there are folks who enjoy fishing in
the middle of winter. Some are called "ice
fishermen," others "steelheaders." I use the
collective noun; insane masochists.
I've been ice fishing before. I was the third
man in a two-holer ice tent. If you've never
seen one, imagine a nylon-fabric porta-potty on
the middle of a frozen lake, all surrounded by
little flags stolen from a Smurf golf course.
At least, that's what it looks like. Some of
these tents and shacks are very fancy, with solid
sides, sofas, TV and hot and cold running maniacs.
More on that.
It was Nebraska in late January. I was invited
to join Henry and John to fish. As a fly fisherman,
I show up with my fly rod and a chainsaw. I figure
I can cut a long, keyhole shape in the ice and get
two or three casts before the guides freeze up.
The guys invite me into their tent. My 8'6" five
weight won't fit, so I leave it at the door. I
keep the chainsaw, noting the crazed look in the
eyes of these erstwhile "friends." Self defense,
The interior is sparse. Two upturned 5 gallon
buckets in a line with a kerosene space heater
in the middle. They are facing two holes in the
ice. Two fishing rods that have been taken away
from their mothers too soon sit on little stands;
the lines go into the water.
I need a hole. Hmm, never had cause to utter that
sentence before. I mention this to Henry, he steps
outside the tent and brings in "the drill." This
isn't your standard Black & Decker. The drill has
a 2 horsepower gas motor on the top, handles
designed for hands wearing boxing gloves and a
9 inch bit. Not 9 inch long, but 9 inches across.
This is the WMD evidence that we were looking for
John pushes things back and Henry pulls the rip
cord, the tent fills with smoke and noise. Okay,
we got your basic shock and awe going here. I'm
shocked that the thing will start in the minus
fifty degree temps and awe gonna get out before
I'm overcome by carbon monoxide.
Henry centers the bit between the other two holes,
pushes a lever and poof! We have a three-holer.
14 inches down and he's into the lake. He takes
the drill outside and then starts to explain the
"Okay, those holes outside are John's and mine.
You fish out of your hole here. We don't have
the gear to set you up outside."
"Those are more fishing holes? I thought the local
CSI had been out here tagging evidence from some
bizarre Inuit gang war. How do you get the fish
in? You've got no fishing poles."
"Well, the flags are tip ups. When the flag goes
up, we run out and pull up the line. Right now,
we have them set for bigger, cruising fish. We
don't want to catch tiddlers."
"You catch tiddlers on your tip-ups?"
"No, we don't want to catch tiddlers on the tip-ups.
That's why we use a flasher."
Okay, thinks I, these guys are suffering frostbite
between the earmuffs. I warily eye my two tentmates
in their knee-length parkas, as I slowly move to the
back corner of the tent.
"You flash the fish?"
"Yes, we put the probe down the hole and we can
see the fish with the flasher."
"You put the probe down the hole so you can see
the fish with the flasher and not catch tiddlers
with the tip-ups."
"Okay, I think I've got it. What I've got, I've
no clue. What do you use for bait?"
"Those look like maggots."
"No, no. They're totally different."
"Well, they don't seem to have much action."
"You have to warm them up."
"How do you warm them up?" asks I.
"Just pop a few in your mouth and hold 'em in
your cheek." He then raises his mitten to his
mouth and coughs up four wriggling worms into
"I think I'm gonna spew!"
"Don't worry about it. They're wax worms.
"You're sure about this?"
"Of course, been doing it for years. Since I've
started warming up my bait, I've trebled the
amount of fish caught."
John is besides me nodding seriously. He opens
up a little cardboard can and shakes a tablespoon
full of chilled, flesh colored rice krispies into
my glove. I summon up my courage and pop them
into my mouth.
"Mmbule, mrammblu bebeme nbm mammods?"
I move the wax worms around with my tongue playing
sheepdog and finally herd the suckers into my cheek.
"I said, what's the difference between wax worms
and maggots? You said they were totally different."
The wax worms are starting to wake up and one escapes
out the corner of my mouth, plopping onto the ice
and squirming away.
"Marketing. No one in the US would buy maggots
so they changed the name to wax worms."
John takes the pepper shot full in the face. He
now looks like a genetically altered Medusa with
maggots instead of snakes. None the less, they
are both laughing hysterically.
This is the ice fishing initiation. Henry just
had a few "wax worms" in his palm to keep them
warm. With a bit of slight of hand, just spit
into the mitten and voila, there they were.
I, on the other hand, am not laughing. I still
have one little bugger caught behind a crown and
a second is heading for my sinuses. Now I know
where they got the idea for so many movies along
the line of Alien. That sucker nested up there.
Finally hatched out during a big presentation
I was giving at work.
Time to get down to fishing. John hands me a
spare rod. It's about 18 inches long with a
little bitty reel attached. I remove my gloves
to bait the hook, picking a couple of live ones
out of John's hair line.
Since there is no room up front, I lean over
the space heater and finally set up on my hole.
Plunk, in the water with a bobber the size of a
kidney bean. Hey, this isn't so bad. A couple
of "friends," we're fishing and chatting away.
Even after my appetizer, I'm starting to get hungry.
As a matter of fact, I smell something cooking.
Doesn't smell very good. More like burning
plastic bags. Smoke curls up around my face.
John looks over and casually comments, "fire."
"You're on fire."
I look down, and my parka is up against the space
heater. Flames are licking up from my groin to
my chest. I calmly assess the situation. Ah, yes.
Stop, drop and role. I remember that from kindergarten.
Unfortunately, there is no room in the tent for this
maneuver. I believe its time to quietly exit the
facility and find a snow bank.
Translate: The scream that I emit draws sharks
in from the South Pacific and sets off car alarms
for a 50 mile radius. Many Nebraskans head to
their tornado shelters. I throw the rod and reel,
which takes the path of least resistance and drops
straight down through the hole in the ice. I
proceed to beat myself across the stomach and
chest whilst doing a great impression of the
Tasmanian Devil in a confined space. I finally
head for the exit.
I hit the door doing about Mach 10. The Velcro
closure decides to hold fast. I, and now the
whole tent with me, am now moving across the
windswept lake. The tent finally catches on
its two other occupants. It molds around them
like a second skin. They don't move, John
thinks he has a nibble. The Velcro gives and
I burst through the door.
As I exit, I figure out that the flames were
oxygen starved in the tent. I know this,
because as soon as I hit the outside air, I
turn into a human comet, a flaming blue head
trailed by a stream of grey smoke. I head
for the nearest snow bank and discover the
true meaning of windswept. Ain't no snow
banks for hundreds of yards around.
Kids are playing hockey. I head out, head
down and hip check a ten-year-old into Kansas.
I enter the flagged minefield of Henry and John's
tip-ups. Slaloming through, I manage to snag
every one of them with my mukluks. I look like
a Wisconsin limousine kitted out for a wedding.
One tip-up is attached to a state-record walleye
that flies through the air, flash freezes, shoots
across the lake, and trips a figure skater who
does the first ever quadruple Lutz. Unfortunately,
she lands in one of John's ice holes and is never
I finally dive for the ice, rolling and spinning
in inaugural Winter X-Games break dance competition.
The officials hold up their signs, 2, 1.5, 2 and
a 0.5 from the French judge.
The flames out, I look back and Henry and John
haven't moved. The tent site looks like a plane
crash debris field. My 5 weight is broken and
forms a cross over the hole that the skater
disappeared through. John raises his rod and
brings up a 6" yellow perch.
I think I'll stick to fly fishing and class V
rapids, it's safer. ~ Frank Reid
Born and raised in Southern California, my mother
taught me to love fishing. I would fish from the
piers around Los Angeles as all my friends hung out
on the beach. At age 19, I joined the U.S. Air
Force to see the world and liked what I saw, so
stayed in for 23 years, finally retiring in 2000.
I've lived and fished all over the US and the globe,
from the deserts of California to the Philippines,
Germany, South Korea, England, beautiful Omaha,
Nebraska and about 1,000 other places in between.
These travels taught me to fish for whatever happens
to be in the local water. I now work in the Baltimore
area as a computer consultant trying to earn
enough to buy that next new rod or go on that next trip.
My wife is Brenda (who's quilting addiction rivals my
fly fishing/tying obsession) and we have two lovely
daughters. ~ FR