Almost Ice-Fishing

The End of an Error

By Ron McFarland

Sometime in the 1980s, my fellow poet and friend Dennis Held, a Wisconsinite born to ice-fishing, introduced me to the frigid aspects of angling through the ice [see “Ice versus Fly,” IDAHO magazine, May 2015]. I remember thinking how one advantage of freezing your can off was that pests such as mosquitoes, yellowjackets, and deer flies would be no problem. Also, you wouldn’t have to worry about taking a header while wading the snot-slippery streambed of Lolo Creek.        

As I have aged, I have become more sedentary, a condition to which ice-angling is well adapted. At the same time, I’ve also experienced the inconvenience of attaching a microscopic #18 fly to my tippet. One needs one’s magnifying glass on such occasions, and one finds one has forgotten to bring that implement. One ties on a sensible #12, to no avail.

It follows that ice-fishing should be my angling method of choice, yet two years ago, I joined the Clearwater Fly Casters and quietly opted to resign from bobbing a salmon egg or corn kernel up and down through a hole bored by my aging ice augur.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
Ice-fishing on Winchester Lake. Winchester Lake State Park.
Spring Valley Reservoir. Bornhaul Alam.


One explanation for this decision is I embraced the fellowship (and accepted the mendacity) that accompanies such membership. Another is my wife worried about me out alone on a surface that might break and drown me.

Two or three winters before I abandoned the ice, I enjoyed what I considered to be the best of both the ice-fishing and fly-fishing worlds when I ran out of hooks while ice-fishing the Spring Valley Reservoir about twenty miles east of Moscow.

I tied on a #10 caddis fly, attached a bit of nightcrawler, and, as we elite anglers like to say, “knocked ’em dead.” Had I been a CFC member then, I might have pushed the envelope of prevarication just a bit by announcing I’d landed a half-dozen fat rainbows through the ice—on a caddis!

Yet as I say, the lack of fellowship was an issue. And the results of my final ice-fishing foray, to Winchester Lake State Park, didn’t help either. My pal Dennis had betaken himself to Spokane, and I had no other fishing buddies crazy enough to want to squander several hours stomping their feet and deicing their paws just to haul in a few trout, or possibly only a couple, or fewer.

So, I drove alone sixty-five miles south of my Moscow home to the lake, in its previous life a mill pond formed by damming Lapwai Creek in 1910. The mill closed in 1965, shortly after a fire burned down much of the town that was named in 1900 after the rifle.

 I own one. It’s not a fine antique, and I never shot a varmint with it, but I have seen the 1950 movie, which, curiously, stars James Stewart rather than John Wayne. But I digress.

When I drove through the town (population 350 or so), I noticed healthy snowbanks, although the streets were more slushy than icy. Sure enough, that applied as well to the lake. I’d driven for more than an hour on a cold cloudy day—what looked to be an ideal day for ice-fishing—only to find no ice. Or none to speak of.

If I had a boat, I might have rowed into the center of the lake and fished at the edge of an ice floe, but alas, I’ve never had one.

On the other hand, I had a rod and reel, sinkers, floats, and bait—plenty of bait: nightcrawlers, corn, salmon eggs. Those familiar with the art of ice angling will probably guess what happened next. Undaunted, I rigged up and cast into the lake from the shore. There were no docks at the time.

But the lengthiest of my three ice-fishing rods measured only thirty-two inches from the butt-end of the handle to the tip. I had no true spinning rods with me for distance-casting. I managed several awkward casts that reached about six feet into the murky water. The depth there must’ve been about three feet. Not many rainbow trout hang out in three-foot waters, even in February, and in this case, not a one did.

“Well,” one of my non-ice-fishing buddies later opined, “there’s no fool like an ice-fishing fool.”

What could an old poet do? I went home and wrote a few lines in tribute to my wife’s concern for me, that I call “Ice Fishing in February:”

All winter I’ve told myself I’ll shrug off the cold

and go ice fishing at Winchester Lake. My wife

imagines herself a latter-day Cassandra,

foresees me plunging through the uncertain ice

and following my manual augur into the murk

all for the sake, she prophesies, of a few small trout.


Today, however, the ice has resigned itself

to melting in the wind of a quick chinook,

so I return my augur and my rod

and head to the supermarket for some cod.

My wife, acknowledging my discontent,

winks conspiratorially at the sun.






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Ron McFarland

About Ron McFarland

Ron McFarland is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho, where he started teaching literature and creative writing in 1970. Pecan Grove Press published his fourth full-length book of poems, Subtle Thieves, in 2012. His critical books include Appropriating Hemingway (2015) and Edward J. Steptoe and the Indian Wars (2016).

One Response to Almost Ice-Fishing

  1. Gerard Rakoczy - Reply


    Your words parallel on my own recent evolution of life, fishing buddies and spouse concerns.
    These days I walk slower and creak more while sitting on a large ice block. My son-in-law took a new job far away. So now he and my grandson share hunting and fishing adventures with me, through pictures and e-mail. I still make it to the ice bound trout hot spots by my self. To the worry of my wife and dear pup, (who both refuse to join me)
    But alas, I was running the hills and woods of my youth by myself to the worry of my parents. Six decades of learned life and outdoor skills are not discarded because I go alone. It’s just sad others can’t enjoy with me God’S great beauty that is exposed on my adventures. Man made pictures to capture things. God gave me eyes, ears a nose a heart and mind to capture and hold my pictures in. This life can be pinched out in a blink. I just keep moving (slowly and creaking) and enjoying. Until I’m pinched out! Keep moving!

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