COLUMN: Ice fishing fun

MIchele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     If temperatures continue to drop and hold, ice fishing conditions should improve and ice fishermen will head out for some long-anticipated winter fishing fun. Here is a column I wrote almost five years ago recalling my initiation into the world of ice fishing. Much of my childhood was spent on the Mississippi River and I’ve enjoyed many ice fishing adventures.

     My initiation into ice fishing started when I was very young. Winter months included many trips to area lakes and the mighty Mississippi River for fast and furious ice fishing action. As a youngster I enjoyed catching fish through the ice, but also spent much time exploring, including old ice holes, docks, wooded areas, and anything else that would catch a youngster’s eye. I never strayed too far from the sight of my father, who never strayed to far from his bucket and holes in the ice. Of course when the fish were biting, I would also be glued, in a sense, to those dark holes in the ice waiting for the tiny bobber to move or disappear from sight.

     My father would often simply come home from work and announce that we were “going fishing.” I would scramble to throw on my layers of winter clothing, snowsuit, face mask, and winter boots. We would then put our sled, bucket with ice fishing rods, small box of jigs, sinkers, and bobbers, ice scoop, and ice auger into the back of the truck. Lastly we would grab some snacks, hot chocolate, coffee, and wax worms, our bait, before heading out. If it was a particularly cold day we would take the portable ice shack and propane heater.

     We would always check the ice conditions by drilling holes as we proceeded onto the ice, especially if dad was unsure of the thickness. I always jumped when the ice would pop and snap on frigid days. Although I have never totally fallen through the ice, I am very cautious and prefer ice that is over 8 inches thick.

     When we arrived at our destination we would survey the area and quickly pick out where we would drill our holes.  Once every last bit of ice was scooped from my hole I would slide my sled into position, lie down, and peer into the watery world below. If it was clear enough I could sometimes make out branches, rocks, weeds, and better yet fish! This was always a boost in the effort needed to stay put and twitch the rod in order to entice the fish to grab the jig. Using a fishing tent made it easier to see this underwater world.

     After checking the depth quickly, we would get busy setting our bobbers and baiting our jigs. Then the real fun would begin. Dad taught me to keep my bobber moving. Jigging the rod slowly up and down, with a short pause just long enough to let the fish bite, was the best way to ensure a fish supper. I can happily say we ate fish a lot! Setting the hook and pulling the fish out of the hole was always a fun experience. The kind of fish we caught always depended on where we were fishing.

     When looking back I remember many of my fishing trips with fond memories. Memories not only of catching fish but of spending time with people we truly care about. I hope that many of you, in turn, can do activities with your children that will instill in them lasting memories of their own. In today’s busy world the effort is well worth the outcome.

     A few local public ice fishing locations include Central Park Lake and ponds and the ponds found at the Hale Wildlife Area. Maps and more information can be downloaded at If you have permission, private farm ponds are great places to fish. As always – think safety and check the ice often! Never venture close to pond or lake aerators and be extra cautious on rivers and their associated backwaters. Be safe and have fun – happy fishing!


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