Fly fishing gear

The cold didn’t stop this kid from ice fishing

When I was nine or ten, during the school Christmas break, we went ice fishing. Everyday. It didn’t matter if it was 10 degrees above zero or ten degrees below, we went ice fishing.

We would hurry to do the morning chores in the barn, pick up the minnows Pa kept in the pumping station, the spikes, the ice colander and the ice chisel. And not to mention our lunch that Ma had prepared that she stuffed in a lunch bucket with a thermos of coffee.

We were leaving for Mt. Morris Lake, between Wild Rose and Wautoma, about a half hour drive in our 1936 Plymouth. Arriving at the parking spot, we gathered our gear and hiked about half a mile through the cold and snow to the lake.

Once there, Dad decided where we were to fish – that is, where we would poke holes in the ice with an ice chisel, which was no easy task. At that time, the lake had ten or more inches of ice. We fished for northern pike and used spikes to try and catch them.

Once the holes were cut and the tip ups in place, we could each have two tip ups, we went back to land. We lit a small campfire, using cattail heads, twigs and small branches that we collected.

Soon the small fire sent a lazy trickle of smoke into the air as we sat around it warming up and watching the tips upward for a flag to fly up, meaning we took a bite. The Kolka boys and their father could join us, Uncle Wilbur sometimes did, as did the Nelson boys and others too.

This was the time for storytelling – perhaps better called stretching the truth – as anglers have a nasty habit of catching more fish and bigger fish in their stories than what actually happened. It was a time that I have never forgotten.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: The Christmas holidays conjure up stories of ice fishing and wonderful memories.

Jerry apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a farm in Wisconsin, is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of over 35 books, many on rural history and country life. For more information on Jerry’s writing and television work, visit