On the ice, a bite is still a bite
But when the water gets hard, my enthusiasm for the sport dies.
I don't get it—bundling up, walking hundred of yards to sit on a sheet of ice in freezing temperatures and stare at a hole.
I've tried ice fishing: Never got good at it (read: hardly caught any fish), was always cold, and was jigging a little lure through a hole with only my bait and hook coming back up through.
Where's the fun in that?
But it's there. The shantytowns that spring up on Wisconsin lakes every winter attest to it.
I had to see what it was all about one recent morning on Delavan Lake.
More than anything, ice fishing still is fishing.
"I just like to get out, enjoy the outdoors and catch some fish," said George Fincutter, who was jigging for bluegills or anything else that would bite. "I've got my heater going. It's pretty nice."
He's been getting out on the ice for more than 30 years.
Fincutter, a truck driver for Mann Brothers Excavating in Elkhorn, is laid off in winter. A lot of blue-collar workers such as Fincutter have seasonal employment, and a lot of them spend time on the ice, he said.
"It's better than sitting in front of the TV all day," Fincutter said with a smile before he ducked back into his cozy, carpeted shanty.
Fincutter keeps it simple. He's got a hand auger, small sled shanty, a couple of poles, his heater and a bucket full of hope.
But ice fishing can be even more enjoyable with a few more gadgets.
John Reddy, a fishing guide from Delavan, has more than $12,000 sunk into his ice fishing gear if you count his four-wheeler, power auger and electronics equipment. (The guy has four shanties and dozens of tip-ups, too.)
It's a lot of gear to tow around, but it makes things more fun.
"I rely on my electronics equipment almost 100 percent," Reddy said, referring to his Vexlar-brand flasher (or fish-finder) and his underwater video camera. "Otherwise, you wouldn't see the bite. It's pretty exciting."
It's almost like a video game, he said.
With a less-expensive Vexlar, you can see your bait as a flashing green line. A fish will come in as a yellow or red blob on the flasher, and you can "watch" it follow your bait. Then, when the colored lines come close, be ready for a bite.
"If you tie into a big fish and pull it up through the ice, it is very exciting," Reddy said.
There's nothing quite like the fight of a big northern pike or Geneva Lake lake trout on the end of a skinny pole not much longer than your arm, Reddy said. Just don't expect that every time you go out.
"You can have your best days, or you can have your worst days," Reddy said.
So be warned.
The thing with ice fishing is this: Everyone can have those days.
"It's just as challenging (as open-water) fishing at getting them to bite," Fincutter said. "Sometimes they'll bite, sometimes not.
"Ice fishing is the same way. So you change colors, or you use plastics. Sometimes they just won't bite. The main thing is just getting out and enjoying the outdoors."
If you have two feet and a few dollars for a hand auger, some inexpensive poles, line, jigs, bait and a bucket, you can go ice fishing. Ice gives anglers a chance to go to the same places boat owners can go before or after the ice.
"That boat thing is a big deal for a lot of people," said Dave Duwe, a fishing guide from Richmond Township. "They aren't able to get onto a lake because they don't have a boat. But with good ice, the whole lake is theirs."
"There's just something about it," Reddy said as he jiggled his rod and kept an eye on the Vexlar. "You get that thump—that hard hit you sometimes get—and then you run them up through the hole.
"There's just something about it."