Winter fishing

(Photo by Doug Freese)

When outdoor escapades were a major part of my life a long time ago, I was invited to my first time ice fishing.  I was invited by a neighbor, Jake, whose wife refused to accompany her husband on this winter sport. I took up the challenge, in what I thought it would be an interesting winter event.

I was astonished at the amount of gear that one needs for this frosty event.  My neighbor had a sled rigged with a wooden box to haul the equipment to the ice field. This includes short fishing poles that work as long as your gloves are the arctic kind. When you take them off, your hands must be warm enough to bait a wiggling minnow on the lure.

You need an assortment of small fishing lures called jigs, tip-ups used to hold your line, and bait in the hole. Tip-ups are an inventive device that allows you to keep your hands in your pockets while you watch the accompanying red flag wiggle, showing a fish that has decided that a cold brunch was okay.


The tackle box held spoons, a lure used attract those of the underwater world, exciting them enough to urge them to move toward their potential capture. I never learned the purpose of reel lubricant. We had enough line to spin a web around the world, a minnow bucket holding live bait, an ice skimmer and an auger.

He handed me a jackknife with instructions to keep it in easy access. Should I end up in the water, he said, it would be used to assist in getting me up on the ice and to safety. This was not all that reassuring.

He had two wooden crates, the kind that held Coca-Cola. These devised seats kept us just six inches from the ice surface. A flask was filled with what he called the best of Kentucky, Old Crow. I believed him. It did taste like an old crow.

There were several towels, should you get your hands wet, I had no intention of taking off my gloves, let alone of reaching into the water. If that fish on the end of the line did not come easily out of the hole, I’d let it continue back into the abyss.

The auger itself was a hoot. It had a shovel-like device on the end. No gas motor, no battery. The only thing that powered it was sheer brawn.

While my friend struggled to drill though six inches of robust Seneca Lake ice, I began to understand why his wife found the couch a better alternative.  It took over a half-hour to achieve his goal. He had built up a sweat while I began to shiver. I bailed slush from the entry hole and was surprised to see how clear the water was. Constant skimming seemed necessary.

I got to see a fish take the bait.  If I remember correctly, we caught a few bass and a rather large yellow perch. My friend was delighted with the catch of the day. I would have liked a shanty or fish house to make me a bit more comfortable. But I did enjoy the adventure.

Many years later I was a guest at a fishing camp on Tupper Lake in upstate New York. A group who made this an annual event had invited me to join them.

While the hotel facilities were a winter delight, I was in for a new-age ice-fishing event.  These serious anglers had store-bought sleds equipped with the very latest paraphernalia that money could buy. They had a fish finder that they told me improved the odds of success sevenfold. The auger they had was run on propone. A one-pound cylinder snapped on and drilled holes in minutes. They had at least six holes done by the time most of us gals had finished breakfast.

The “shanty” they placed over this special spot housed a carpet, fold-up lawn chairs, a propane stove, a generator to run the juicer needed to make of all things frozen daiquiris.  Almost all the comforts of home and no gloves needed. This kind of fishing appealed more to me than sitting on a Coca-Cola crate in the Finger Lakes.

This seasoned crowd was of the catch-and-release kind. Pictures were what we shared around the supper table. I suspect they could have prepared a gourmet meal with their successful catch right there on the ice.

If I only fished to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.

Should I ever go ice fishing again, I have decided that the accommodations will determine my decision as to whether to go. I could sit for a few hours with pleasant company, in a heated hut on the ice, cocktail in hand, watching for my tip-up signal in a successful day of angling.

There is one comment

  1. Cory Warfield

    Great article!! Only the hardcore are out fishing in the midwest this time of year!!!

    You mentioned all the gear you’ll need, and it made me think of my favorite fishing accessory, the fishing caddy ( – it’s an 8-in-1 system that significantly reduces how much you have to carry, etc. It’s got a light, cup holders, a seat, two rod holders with catch detection, holds tackle, bait, fish, and more – you should check them out!!

    See you out in the cold! (brrrr)

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