ICE FISHING RATES AS A SPORT that must seem absurd to anyone living in a warm weather climate.
I mean, if you aren’t from a place like Minnesota or Wisconsin, how would you react to anglers driving their vehicles onto a frozen lake, fish houses in tow? That seems reckless and unsafe and dangerous, and it can be. No ice is ever considered 100 percent safe. But, take precautions like knowing your lake (or river) and its ice thickness, driving with windows rolled down and carrying safety equipment, and the sport can be relatively safe.
Still, this time of year and with the particularly snowy winter we’ve had in Minnesota, ice fishing right now doesn’t seem all that safe to me. Snow acts like a blanket, insulating the ice, resulting in thinner, inconsistent and weaker ice. Decades have passed since I engaged in the sport so I am not writing from current day experience, only from basic knowledge.
Sunday afternoon while out and about in Faribault, I came upon three guys with ice fishing equipment on the frozen Cannon River Reservoir by the Woolen Mill Dam. As I watched, I hoped they knew what they were doing because I didn’t feel all that confident in the strength of the river ice with water flowing below.
But I appreciated that they were out enjoying the 30-degree sunny afternoon, warm enough even to shed their gloves and heavy coats. They’d already set up two portable fish houses by the time I arrived at North Alexander Park. I stood there and observed as the trio carried ice auger, ice saw, and scoop shovel and towed a sled with fishing gear across the snow-covered river. I was uncertain whether they were spearing for or simply angling for fish. Turns out neither.
Local avid outdoorsman and columnist Larry Gavin clarified: Those guys were actually netting carp. The net is stretched from one tent to the other using a hook and a series of holes. They were checking to see if the location was a good one. Every year they net Wells Lake and get a semi tanker full of carp that are shipped overnight to Chicago. There is a high demand for carp as a food source in some ethnic dining.
It was such an iconic Minnesota winter scene, the fishermen in their camouflage attire, a visual clue that they are year-round sportsmen. I can only imagine the camaraderie, the BS, the anticipation of these friends as they searched for fish.
I loved the way their sled left a snaking trail across the Cannon, almost like a line of poetry winding through the snow, writing of winter outdoors, of fish tales, of ice fishing in Minnesota.
FYI: The ice fishing season is winding down in Minnesota. All dark houses, fish houses and portables must be off inland lakes by the end of the day beginning on March 6 in the southern two-thirds of the state and by March 20 in the northern third. You can still ice fish, just can’t leave houses unattended. Local officials can set different restrictions if unsafe conditions call for such action.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling