"A Couple of Iowa Icicles" - by Dan Thompson, February contest winner
I had the unique experience of spending my senior year of high school in Sioux City, Iowa, which is almost in South Dakota. Having been a fisherman since age three, I was eager to explore local angling possibilities. But with my family moving late in the summer, a new school and all, it was the dead of winter before I knew it. This part of the nation gets quite cold in February with temperatures hovering at or below zero most of the time. What better opportunity to unpack and "ready" my fishing tackle!
The local sport was "ice fishing" (according to the neighbor) and a trip to the sporting goods store put my younger brother and me onto a promising lake. Not totally unprepared, we found this lake which had been frozen over for months. With a borrowed ice auger, our shortest bait casting rods and reels, and appropriate "grubbs" for bait, we were in search of "perch," a fish I knew nothing of.
To our surprise and delight, we found that most folks simply drove their vehicles right out on the ice to their favorite fishing spots. We followed suit and did a couple of celebratory "doughnuts" on the ice to hail our new sport! I guided the AMC Rambler "Ambassador" station wagon (studded snow tires included) away from the pack of other fishermen and found what looked like good water (ice). We jumped out and proceeded to drill our hole with the hand auger. After nearly an hour, and only 4 inches into the foot-plus thick ice, we quit with sweat freezing on our brow.
Still determined, we joined the pack of other fishermen, and found a previously drilled hole (real ice fishermen have 2hp gas augers) to fish. Parking the Rambler a safe distance away we skimmed the crust of ice off the hole to reveal water! Oh joy! We baited up and waited. My brother commented how funny the local fishermen looked with their little shanty-type huts and short fishing rods with flags and bells. But they all had nice little frozen "catches" scattered around their holes.
After an hour of strikeless fishing the temperature was reaching the high of the day, somewhere between 5 and 10 degrees. Standing on the ice like that was enough to make even the hardiest of young men shiver. My brother and I began to look at the snow-suited locals going in and out of their little smoking huts as wise old sages. We gradually realized that ice fishing can be kind of slow when you only have an 8 inch circle of water to wet your lines.
Still not discouraged, I told my brother to hang in there. We were both going to catch a fish before leaving. Another hour passed as we used fresher grubbs and threw the frozen ones away. At one time, we both thought we felt a strike through the numbness of our frigid fingertips, but the only thing we produced from our hole was more ice. Frustration really began to set in.
Desperate fisherman have been known to come up with some desperate ideas. The bottom half of my body was numb as I raced toward the Rambler. My brother's red and wind-chapped face cheered me on as I fired it up. The locals came out and squinted at the comotion as I jockeyed it into position. Before you knew it we were basking in luxurious warmth with the radio humming and our quickly shortened fishing rods in our laps. The passenger window was opened just enough to allow our lines to reach the hole in the ice.
The laughter and embarassment was worth the warmth. I suppose we looked pretty silly with the Rambler puffing away and two rods sticking out the window. We also blamed the engine noise and vibration of the ice for getting "skunked" that day.
Spring came, I graduated, and moved to college back in the mid Atlantic. Needless to say, I never went ice fishing again.