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Ice fishingVisitors try their hand at ice fishing at Mozingo Lake in Maryville.
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Ice fishing melissaWriter Melissa Shipman shows off a catch.
Fishing Through the Ice
Ice fishing wasn’t something I ever thought I’d do.
I’m new to fishing, and I’m not one for cold weather. But in the spirit of adventure, I pushed aside my doubts and signed my husband Wyatt and myself up to learn. Every year since 2007, the Missouri Department of Conservation hosts an ice fishing clinic to teach anglers about ice safety, as well as give advice on fish species. Our clinic was held at Mozingo Lake in Maryville, where we sat down for a short training session led by Tory Mason, a fisheries management biologist.
After 30 minutes of information and tips, we bundled up and headed to the ice. I added an extra pair of socks and pushed an ear warmer over my head. Only then did I realize I was about to walk onto a frozen lake, and I paused. But, Tory explained how to test the ice, which he’d already done for the day. He begins checking ice thickness after several nights of single digit temperatures. He goes out to a shallow pond or lake and drills a series of holes, venturing out further if each hole shows a safe thickness.
There are many factors when it comes to ice thickness, including the body of water, wind direction, snow cover, flowing water under the ice, and waterfowl activity. Toward the end of the season, ice can be 10 inches thick but soft enough to kick a hole through, in which case, it’s not safe. Tory recommends the ice be at least four inches thick for anglers who are walking on the pond, and at least eight inches to drive an ATV across the ice.
When we reached the available fishing holes, others had already begun fishing, and the MDC staff was busy drilling holes with a power auger or a hand crank drill. Since it began, the ice fishing clinic has doubled in size from 60 to around 120 guests. The MDC now has enough equipment and supplies on hand to provide for more than 100 guests at a time, including poles and bait. All we needed was warm clothing and a strong will to fish through the cold.
After all, in order to ice fish, you must stand on a six-inch-thick ice cube for hours, often covered with the slushy, melting water. In our case, there was a large snowfall a few days earlier and the bright, clear sunshine was melting the snow. Insulated rubber boots are a must. The rods and reels provided for us didn’t seem like much at first glance, but after a few minutes of fishing, it became clear they’re perfect for the delicate task of watching and feeling for a bite. Cold water makes the fish sluggish, and the bite on a line can be so faint it is almost impossible to feel with your hand.
Luckily, each rod was equipped with a bobber to make the job easier. The bait—tiny wax worms known as beemoth larvae—dictates how you fish. With this bait, we had to use a steady up-and-down motion to attract the fish. It takes practice, but after a few unsuccessful reel-ins, I got the hang of it and pulled up my first fish. The hardest part of ice fishing is that the snow and ice block light from the water. There’s no way to see if fish are moving, and it can be hard to judge how deep your bait is dangling.
Using the right bait is important. Tory says wax worms are best for pan fish, though bass and catfish will nibble too. As he describes other types of bait, I am overwhelmed. All of it is way over my head—I’m just a beginner. But that’s the great thing about this clinic.
There are lots of beginners. Pretty soon, we had a pile of small fish that we just kept on the ice. That’s one perk of ice fishing—it makes for easy storage. Soon I was cold and ready to head inside. Despite frozen fingers and toes, it had been a satisfying day. We each caught three fish.
Of course, it could’ve just been beginner’s luck.
-By Melissa Shipman