Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Recent weather makes for nice ice

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Ted Peck
Sunday, December 8, 2013

Optimists might see the arrival of January temperatures a month too early as a sign that spring must be right around the corner.

Pessimists might recall ice fishing on opening day of the general fishing season up north last spring and conclude the winter of 2012-13 was a harbinger of weather even more severe during the next four months.

I’ve always defined a pessimist as an optimist with experience, but adjusted the sails to stay on course according to prevailing conditions.

Nature’s little queues like depth of fuzz on Wooly Bear caterpillars is used by some wags to predict severity of winter. Most of us are too busy to analyze caterpillar fuzz trends, sometimes failing to notice even obvious hints as we hurry on our way.

Coming home the other day, I noticed an antler had fallen off of a neighbor’s lawn ornament deer. Could this mean the mother of all winters is at hand?

There is no doubt Mother Nature is working overtime making ice this weekend. The joy or horror in this fact is all a matter of perspective.

With the exception of resident geese, most waterfowl have already migrated. The big push happened Thanksgiving week—when it usually does. But the holiday came a week later than usual this year.

Lack of snow cover is makes for challenging pheasant hunting. But the hard freeze has locked up water in wetlands making those wily swamp roosters a little easier to get after.

For ice fishers, arctic weather without snow is a good thing. Winters that come on warm and wet with lots of snow result in cloudy ice when a lake finally locks up.

Cloudy ice is less strong and less uniform than clear ice. A comparison between gravel and concrete is not much of a stretch. Most of us would rather walk on concrete. Mother Nature is washing down her bull float and getting the mag trowel ready.

Clear ice is also denser than cloudy ice. When Mother Nature returns next spring to peel back the winter blanket, clear ice will stick around longer than cloudy ice. Good news if you’re an ice fisher. Not so good if your concept of opening day of fishing season next spring involves fishing from a boat.

Deer hunting has been more of a personal focus than ice fishing recently. Buddies who can hardly wait for the arrival of hardwater tell me the action hasn’t been as good as they thought it would be.

Some of the season’s best action is typically at “first ice.” This belief is why some folks are willing to light foot across ice where angels fear to tread.   

One year I was the very first to tap a hole on the County AB ditch near Stoughton. Several orange-chested bull bluegills were flopping on the ice within minutes. Conventional wisdom said that grinding a second hole should mean even more fish. With less than two inches of ice it wouldn’t take long to put this theory to the test.

That year I was also the first to fall through the ice at the County AB ditch near Stoughton. The water was only chest deep—a discovery confirmed after considerable panicked flailing. The water was also cold.

This was a pivotal moment in the education of an ice fisherman. Care is now taken to avoid cloudy ice and to walk on ice, not adjacent snow even though walking on snow is easier.

A PFD, pair of screwdrivers on a tether and 40 feet of rope wrapped around a six gallon bucket are now standard equipment until ice is an honest four inches thick. The rope is for rescuing ice-fishing optimists undergoing an immersion conversion.

It has been used more than once, reaffirming the definition of pessimist.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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