And just like that, my young companion pulled a fish out of the ice.
The helpful man who had just drilled some holes for us with his powered tool called across the way with congratulations. He said he’d been out three days in a row without a catch — I kind of wished he had caught it.
The camaraderie of the ice is a great thing.
In subsequent days I drilled six holes, for three rods during two trips; and came home with one fish. And one bag of trash.
Slack water from a river and a string of arctic nights is enough to make sufficient ice. Growing up in Wisconsin, slack water was left for the committed. The masses enjoyed the relative safety of frozen lakes, which meant broader platforms of ice and enough confidence to drive freely.
The memory of those ice cracking booms zipping away from rumbling tires tugged a grin in my face. Like ski jumping, maybe that’s something you have to do from a young age to enjoy?
Day one was backwater of the Wapsi, upwind from Central City. The lot at the canoe launch was plowed and the walk was short. I needed the exercise from hand drilling holes for warmth. The fishing was slow, like the transition from afternoon to twilight.
A grand cottonwood glowed in a diminishing area from bottom to top. Soon enough the eagle nest was in shadow and then, that blue light too that had already enveloped us on the ice.
Day two was a midday effort beneath an overcast sky with noticeably warmer temps. The ease of access at the Prairie Park Fishery was good as was the depth of ice.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Nearby, the flow of the Cedar River kept it open and deadly. In the repurposed sand mine the water was locked up. Its menagerie of warm-water fish like crappies and catfish were joined by seasonal lodgers, rainbow trout.
The cold adverse locals were no match for the action trout promised. Stocked from state hatcheries in the fall, these vigorous fish cruise actively for food — hopefully bait — and come summertime they will be gone. Gone into the creels of anglers, the bellies of larger animals, or to benthic rot because they can’t survive the warmth of summer water. If you have a fishing license and a trout stamp, then you already paid for them. And if you don’t, then download the app right now.
After the initial flurry of activity and then a trout on the ice, my companion and I took turns wandering away from the holes, as ice will let you do. He was interested in launching snowballs and guessing distances versus the range finder. My diversion was for animal tracks. I made it to the shoreline where I fell into my habit of picking up other people’s trash. A glob of old line here, an empty bait cup there and soon my hands were full. A providential find of a shopping bag extended my avocation until a little stretch of shoreline was clean and the bag at capacity.
I recommend hard water fishing. There are no mosquitoes and you can walk on water. The surface facilitates socializing or wandering, as your heart desires. Next time I’ll be sure to pack a bag, that way I know I won’t come home empty-handed.
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.