January 29, 2004

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Stupidity can often be mistaken for bravery. I came to that conclusion after an acquaintance noted my daring for braving the ice Wednesday afternoon to do a little fishing. One would think that after three of the coldest days of the winter the ice would have been in fine shape. Sure it was 50 degrees that day, but one afternoon of thawing wouldnt hurt the ice too much, would it?

I didnt think so. Im no ice expert, but I do my fair share of writing about ice fishing, so maybe I thought I knew it all. My wife wasnt a believer. Just because everyone stops in the office and asks for an ice fishing report, doesnt mean Im an expert. So when I announced at work Wednesday afternoon that I would be leaving early to go fishing, I received an ultimatum. Either I went down to the hardware store and bought 100-feet of rope or I had to go to the State Farm office and double my life insurance. No offense, but Id rather be able to pull myself out of the hole in the ice than provide a slush fund for the family in case of an untimely departure.

While I dont like to let my wife tell me what to do, I must admit I was happy I had the rope. No, I didnt fall in. I stayed on top of the ice the entire evening. Yet, if I hadnt had the rope there is no way on Earth that this brave ice fisherman would have taken more than three steps out onto this frozen pond. The spring-like weather had rotted away the top layer of ice. I expected to find better quality ice under the surface but it didnt take a dozen twists of the ice auger and I was through the soft, semi-porous surface that was all that stood between me and a cold swim.

A sane person would have tiptoed off the pond and never looked back. But my laziness set it. Here I was, already out in the middle of the pond. I had lugged my gear out there and had drilled my hole. So I wasnt about to waste all that effort. I nearly gave in when the dogs spotted me and came out to see how I was doing. They didnt understand why I insisted on shoo-ing them away. The three stooges didnt realize that their body weight combined with my own was causing the ice to make some funny noises. Then as they departed good old Lake broke through the ice near the bank. Ive never seen him move more quickly than he did when he leapt back out of the water. Hes a cold weather creature, but that water was a bit chilly even for him.

My stubbornness paid off as I caught more than a dozen nice bluegill. Unfortunately I was a little rushed at the end of the evening. Im still thinking it should get dark at 5:00 so after I lost the light and took a look at my watch I was shocked to see that it was 5:40 p.m. I had to be at a meeting by 6:00 so the fish had to go back into the hole.

Missouri weather, the unpredictable piece of work that it is, gave me hope the following day when the wind chill dropped well below zero and the ice once again went back to work, popping and cracking as it expanded and grew. Unfortunately the 50-degree temperature change made the fishing a little tougher on the fisherman, but it definitely was a little less stressful, with the only worry being frostbite instead of threats of bad ice.

It sounds like the roller coaster ride will continue. The immediate weather forecast is calling for several days of thawing to be followed by record cold. So youll either see the fisherman setting out on his bucket in short sleeves with a rope secured to a tree on the shore tied around his waste, or the parka clad fisher toting in his propane heater and an anchor to keep his fishing tent from sliding all over the pond. Either way, well brave it.

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