116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
An extended winter every now and then keeps us honest.
A really cold and snowy winter refills the tank of pride for living in Iowa and having the credibility to make humble brags about our toughness.
Many Iowans claim an ancestor who withstood the hardships of homesteading. The Homestead Act of 1862 helped settle the plains with stoic stalwarts. I bet they would have been great ice anglers.
If you can't reach back into your family tree for a pioneer, then maybe you could point to a rogue relative who tested the limits of man by ascending the Yukon in 1898 in search of placer gold. At least you've read Jack London's, 'To Build a Fire,” and wondered about your own fortitude.
A 'real” winter means more snowmobiling, sledding, skiing, as well as ice fishing. There are substitutes for the previous: a spin on an ATV, slaloming on artificial snow, but nobody goes hard water fishing on man-made ice.
There are two types of ice: safe ice and unsafe. Of course, 'safe” is a decidedly personal term. There are two ways to go ice fishing. One is to move locations frequently. The other is to pick a spot and wait.
In regards to ice safety, I belong to the former camp. I've never needed to catch fish so bad that I was willing to fall through.
In regards to method, I use the latter strategy. As a hopeless traditionalist it's an easy call to follow in the patient and long-suffering steps of my ice fishing mentors. But in truth, I haven't yet invested in the modern gear to make me a mobile man.
Recently I staked a claim to a spot of ice on a local pond. For a brief stretch. my son and I had the hard water to ourselves. The old hand-operated auger punched two 6-inch holes in succession and we were fishing.
We stood and gently jigged the lures tipped with wax worms. I prefer to stand. Shifting from one foot to the next beats trying to find comfort atop a five gallon pail.
Another angler arrived dragging a sledge of gear. We exchanged pleasantries. I jigged. My son had lost interest and was now climbing on derecho toppled trees and chucking sticks for distance.
The newcomer broke out his powered auger and punched holes. What I did in one minute took him seconds. Before you could say, 'Cock Robin,” he bored about eight holes.
I jigged. Now and then I'd bring my lure up near the surface for a visual inspection. And then back down it'd go.
He broke out a toaster sized appliance with a dangling boom. From hole to hole he went. The boom went down the perforation and he consulted the mysteries of the box. The box said there were no fish. And on to the next hole.
He was prospecting, like an eager miner of the Klondike Gold Rush. Ice anglers who 'prospect,” drill and then use with their portable sonar devices. Speeds is the rule, efficiently is the paradigm, and technology is the key.
I, on the other hand, was homesteading. I guarded my hand-drilled hole and waited ignorantly for a jerk on my line.
Over the next 45 minutes, I drilled three more holes in my little area, the upper limit of movement for me. He drilled holes all through the center of the pond and then in a line to the shore. From there down the eastern shoreline.
He called out to a buddy who joined him that he, 'just hadn't marked any fish.” That is, his sonar didn't identify any obvious fish below the holes.
My son returned, worn out from his Tarzan antics. We packed up.
The prospector hadn't caught any fish. Neither did I. The Klondike Gold Rush was over by 1899. The Homestead Act let its last parcel in 1988. Unlike those of history, we'll be back next year to ice fish, both ways.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.