Ice fishing fanatics in central Wisconsin get on the ice from thin first ice to slushy last ice. The timeframe is usually late November until the middle of March. Less ardent and more cautious fishermen and fisherwomen require thick, consistently firm ice and only fish from Christmastime until the end of February. This year the fanatics’ season has been shortened to the season normally adhered to by the non-fanatics, and the season for the non-fanatics is down to a few weeks.

I am not a fanatic, and I recently realized that if I was going to ice fish at all this year, I better go soon. The parts of the Mississippi River with moving water are already open, and only the calm backwaters still have ice. If the weather forecast for the rest of February is accurate, there will be some refreezing coming up, but I doubt there will be enough new ice to make me excited about getting out. Because I had a choice of either ice fishing immediately or waiting until next winter, I went out twice last week. Neither time was without incident. 

Outing No. 1.  When the ice starts to get punky, I often ice fish at Goose Island County Park just south of town. Not only do the lagoons there have little or no current, but some of the better fishing spots are only four feet deep. My preference is to not break through the ice at all, but if I am going to go through, I want it to be up to my armpits and not over my head. 

My friend Dennis and I drove to my favorite spot in the park, only to discover a narrow strip of open water right along the shoreline. Someone had laid down a ten-foot plank, and people were using it as a bridge to get from dry land to solid ice. Dennis and I also used the plank, and when I cut my first hole, I saw that the ice away from shore was eight inches thick. Supposedly two inches of ice will support an adult human being, but I need at least six inches to feel comfortable. My friend and I fished until dark and were the last people to leave. He and I walked to the plank, and just as I was about to step onto it, the ice gave way. The water was only up to my knees, but deep enough to fill my boots. I quickly ran up to the parking lot, pulled off my boots, and jumped into Dennis’ truck. 

Outing No. 2. Breaking through the ice should have told me not to go back, but on that first outing to Goose Island, Dennis and I watched other fishermen and fisherwomen catch crappies by using minnows as bait. We’d only brought small grubs for bluegills, so a second trip with minnows was inevitable. This time neither of us fell through the ice, but a second mishap awaited me. 

This time the problem occurred when I pulled up a keeper-sized bluegill. As sometimes happens, the fish spit the hook as it flopped on the ice. There was tension on the line when the hook came free, and my set up of jig, bait, and small split shot snapped back at me. I wasn’t wearing my mittens at the time, and my fingers were so numb from the cold that I did not feel anything strike my hand. Only after I saw that my fishing line led directly to my pointer finger did I realize that I’d been hooked.

This was the fifth time I’d witnessed a hook in a person, but the first time the person was me. Only after I tried easing the hook out  did I appreciate how deeply it had penetrated. I couldn’t pull it out with my fingers, but was able to jerk it out with a pair of pliers. Going in was painless and bloodless. Coming out hurt and bled. I had no bandaids with me, but I did have a handkerchief. Before wrapping the wound in cloth, I dangled it over my fishing hole. It was dumb, but I thought a few drops of blood might work like chum to attract fish. It did not. 

This morning I sit at my writing table. Three days have passed since the injury. The wound is still sore to the touch, but it is healing. I might, however, be done with ice fishing for the year. 

Steven Simpson