Minnesota ‘hard water’ anglers love ice


Minnesota ice fisherman Christopher Smith fishing for crappies on a northern Twin Cities lake.  Dan Olson/MPR News.   1/2/2014

My childhood memories include tagging along on ice fishing expeditions with adults who drove vehicles loaded with gear onto the surface of a frozen lake. Christopher Smith, an avid ice fisherman profiled in a new episode of Minnesota Sounds and Voices today as part of All Things Considered, prefers to park on land and walk.

Ice angler Christopher Smith is an avid consumer of fishing gear.  Dan Olson/MPR News.  1/2/2014

Christopher likes to fish alone but he was happy to host me for a couple hours. Usually his goal is to get away from the mayhem of meetings, email and phones.

Christopher swore me to secrecy on naming his favorite lake; it’s barely more than a mosquito pond of 55 acres in a northern Twin Cities suburb, but deep enough at about 26 feet to avoid freeze out and be home to decent size crappies.

Winter Carnival anglers on White Bear Lake in a 1950 photo credited to Minneapolis Star photographer Wayne Bell.  Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Other ice anglers seem to be happiest in a crowd, if the number of ‘hard water’ fishing festivals is any measure.

Ice fishing is old.  You’ve seen the pictures.  People for thousands of years have chopped a hole and waited for a fish to take a baited hook. Or they’ve stood silently, with their spear at the ready if they see a shadowy form move in the water.

Those approaches still work, but if everyone fished through the ice that way gear manufacturers would go broke.  Thank goodness many ice anglers love to shop for the very latest gadget that will certainly, without fail, guarantee their piscatorial success.

Ice angler Christopher Smith goes out on the ice only if it's thicker than four inches and only wearing the orange necklace with metal pegs that he could grab and stick into nearby ice should he fall into open water.  Dan Olson/MPR News 1/2/2014

Christopher is no exception.  He’s lost count of the short, light-weight ice fishing rods he owns.  He jokes his artificial bait bag contains ten containers…because it won’t hold twenty.  Yes, he has a hand auger to make a hole in the ice, but, yes, his four-cycle gasoline powered auger is much faster and more convenient.

Curious about this relatively unusual winter outdoor activity?  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is your first stop.  Be sure to check on the dandy article by Chris Niskanen explaining the sport.

But don’t stop there.  Ice fishing for some is meditative, even mystical as chronicled by my colleague Euan Kerr.

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