Sunday, January 06, 2002

Mystery sport

Ice fishing a waste of body heat

        My policy is to treat the hobbies of others with respect. For instance, I personally cannot imagine why anybody would climb in an electric golf cart to drive around a manicured lawn where they make you wear lime green pants and won't let you go barefoot. And I don't see why anybody would cling to the face of a mountain suspended by little metal pegs and rope.

        But I assume these sportspersons have simply experienced something I have neither the sophistication nor the equipment to fully appreciate. Sort of like the fabled “runner's high,” which I guess is probably something like a “diner's high” or a “shopper's high,” only sweatier.

        Respectful, that's me. (Or, that's I, if your hobby is grammar.)

        My hobby is water. I love to dangle my feet in lakes, walk in the surf, ski behind a boat. When the water gets cold, I like to look at it through a nice pane of glass, something I did recently at Indian Lake. When the weather turned intolerably cold, I could see an amazing thing through the pleasantly frosted window. Like camo-colored mushrooms, people started sprouting up over the surface of the lake, sitting on buckets and holding fishing lines. For hours. Squandering perfectly good body heat.

        I might sit around on a block of ice to catch a winning lottery ticket. But a bluegill?

        Luckily, one of the premier ice fishing experts in the country was willing to explain this to me. Dan Armitage, who will be at the Travel, Sports and Boat Show at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, spoke to me from his igloo in Columbus.

        Trying to open the conversation on a positive note, I suggested there must be a reasonable explanation. Maybe, I said, what I saw were inflatable party dolls, dressed as men. And the real men were eating curly fries and knocking back Wild Turkey in front of the fireplace at the Minnow Tank Tavern.

        “Nope,” Dan said, “those guys were bucket fishers.” You can try it out, he explains, without buying expensive equipment. You need something to make a hole in the ice, then “you can buy a scoop to clear away ice chips. I just use an old spaghetti strainer. And you can get a five-gallon pickle bucket to sit on in the Dumpster behind most any Burger King.”

        He once swiped his wife's blender to puree worms and minnows for chum. (A very resourceful guy, but you wouldn't want to ask him to make you a Margarita.)

        But aren't most of the fish asleep for the winter? “They're just sluggish,” he says, “but they're still hungry. You just have to dangle the bait in front of their faces.” He says one bluegill caught on ice is worth 10 during June “because of the anticipation and challenge and novelty.”

        Dan will be giving fishing seminars at the travel show (open today, closed Monday, then open again through next Sunday, Jan. 13). He will answer questions about Walleye and larval bait. He can show you how to keep from freezing if you want to become a bucket fisher. He says he is going to take me out on the ice next time we're both at Indian Lake.

        In return, I hope to introduce him to the sensible sport of reading by a fireplace when it's cold. I will dangle a copy of Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler in front of his face and tell him if it makes him feel more at home he can sit on a pickle bucket.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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