You are probably asking yourself. “Has Bill gone over the edge?”. Why are we looking at an ad from 2004 --- the December 2004 issue of Fur Fish Game to be exact.
The truth is it gives me a chance to reflect on how things have changed in the ice fishing world over the past 60 years. I started ice fishing around 1955 and as no one in my family ice fished, I had to learn by observing old-timers who were fishing through the ice on the lake where my Grandfather lived. Things were very different then. Most folks sat on a five gallon steel bucket rather than in a comfy “ice shanty” and those few who did have a “shanty” or “coup” had ones that were homemade of lumber scraps and appeared in every shape, size and color with a small wood burning stoves inside. Ice fishing rods tended to be a bit longer then and were often made from cut down rods. My own was made from the tip of a bamboo fly rod fitted with a section of broom handle as a grip and a couple of nails on which extra line was wound. Sounds crude but at the age of 18, I landed a six and one half pound walleye on the rod while fishing for crappies with small minnows and a tiny cork float. The tussle took quite some time and I received much unsolicited advice from a growing crowd of older ice fishermen that surrounded me. I took the fish a short distance to my Grandfather's house and buried it in the snow. Soon a Conservation Officer came by and asked me if I was the one who landed the big walleye everyone was talking about. I said yes, then he asked to see it and measure it. I led him to the fish with my heart in my throat. In Ohio at that time one did not need a fishing license until they turned 18 and I had turned 18 five days earlier but did not buy a fishing license as new ones would be required the 1st of March and the cost was $2.25. I practically blacked out waiting for him to ask to see my license. He did not ask and to this day I have never gone fishing without a valid license. I still get nervous remembering my stress during his examination of the fish!
Some time ago Dr Todd made the comment that he was “old enough to have used a hand auger” when he went ice fishing. Now I am beginning to feel REALLY old. When I started to ice fish most fellows including me used an axe to chop a hole in the ice. This actually works fairly well until water runs into the hole after which every swing splashes ice and water all over the fellow with the axe.
About the time I was in high school my fishing partners and I decided to move up in the ice fishing world and procure a “spudbar” which is what ice chisels were called in our neck of the woods. No one produced or sold them commercially so like most others we had a local welder build us one. When we picked up the finished product he mentioned that we might want to temper the blade as it was fairly soft iron. I got an ancient book somewhere that talked about tempering metal. It mentioned that blacksmiths often dipped red hot iron into horse urine to temper it. My High School buddies and I did not have access to a horse but we did have access to plenty of urine. After a “group effort” we had a coffee can full and built a wood fire in a friend's backyard burning barrel. It was a wet, foggy winter day with 6 inches of wet snow on the ground and the temperature was around 40 degrees. After heating the business end of the “spudbar” to a bright cherry red, 4 or 5 of us stood around in a tight circle to watch the red hot iron plunge into our “tempering agent”. We were instantly enveloped in an acrid smelling fog that remains sharp in my mind to this day. This was followed shortly thereafter by the mother of the household coming out of the back door and asking in loud and agitated terms. “What the H*** is going on out here?”
Later I moved to Michigan and the hard winters of the 70's brought on as much as 30 inches of ice. Time to buy one of those new Swedish spoon-shaped augers. It worked great as long as it was kept sharp and not abused. I quit Ice fishing about 20 years ago and by then most folks had moved on to the drill style of hand operated ice auger as one didn't need to stop and clean out the hole periodically while drilling, as was required with the Swedish Spoon. About five years ago I had occasion to drill a hole in the ice for some folks who were all in their early 20's. When I showed up with my Swedish Spoon and a spud bar, they look at me as if I had just stepped out of a history book!
My only advice when it comes to “spud bars” is never lend one that you cannot afford to lose. At least four of mine are on the bottom of lakes after being borrowed by folks who had never used one. They did not take my strong suggestion that it is always wise to tie the handle to your wrist while hammering away at the ice!
Today it seems that most would not think of going ice fishing without a snowmobile or 4-wheeler and a power auger, to say nothing of a collapsible shelter. It worries me that youngsters today get the impression that one cannot go fishing without a large “bassboat” powered by an over-sized engine or that all this mechanized equipment is necessary to go fishing through the ice. For me the charm of ice fishing is being that lone fisherman walking across a snow-covered lake, dragging a small sled behind containing everything I am going to need and hearing only the soft crunch of snow beneath my feet.