Column: A journalist born in the South goes ice fishing for the first time | Advance notice on the lake


As a southern girl and transplanted from Minnesota, winter activities have always fascinated me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would travel from the Land of Enchantment to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, only to be ice fishing alone – but here I am. I can now say that I crossed ice fishing off my to-do list.

When I thought of the Midwest, one of the first things that came to mind was ice fishing. Seeing the winter pastime on TV and in movies has always seemed like an elusive activity in a history book. After all, ice fishing has been around for over 2,000 years when Indigenous peoples used it as a means of survival when ice covered the water, according to many historians.

Now that I have experienced my very first ice fishing expedition, I feel like I have been initiated as an official Minnesotan.

On Saturday, my Buffalo neighbors — Alex and Gina Christian and their adorable son, Emmett, along with their black lab, King — invited me to join them for the day to go ice fishing on Sullivan Lake in County of Wright.

So you can only imagine my anticipation when I said yes. I was nervous, scared and dare I say it – excited. I’ve been surrounded by the desert all my life only to suddenly be thrown onto a frozen lake covered in snow.

First steps

Alex Christian enters his ice castle on Lake Sullivan on Saturday, January 29.

But before leaving for my peak adventure in the Midwest, I dressed for the occasion as best I knew how. I layered up and covered in my favorite winter coat with a pair of snow boots I bought a few years ago at a thrift store in El Paso, Texas, of all people. Why the hell would anyone need snow boots in El Paso? I’m pretty sure I bought these for snow tubing in Cloudcroft, NM at some point.

As I walked on the ice, I could slowly feel my heart racing. I was paranoid that the ice beneath me was going to crack or that I would step into a hole and twist my ankle as ridiculous as that sounds. I finally reached my neighbors Ice Castle fish shop and Alex greeted me with the biggest smile.

Going ice fishing in an ice castle is not what I envisioned when I first thought about going ice fishing. As a native Texan, I imagined ice fishing as sitting outside on a bucket freezing your ass off and being miserable. I could get used to it though, I thought to myself as I took off my winter coat inside the spacious, warm motorhome.

Generational pastime

Xander and Emmett

Alex Christian stands with his 1-year-old son, Emmett, inside his ice castle on Saturday, January 29.

Alex, like many Minnesotans, has been ice fishing his entire life. It’s just part of who he is, he says. He grew up five miles south of Maple Lake and is now passing the tradition on to his son Emmett.

As we were chatting Alex said that when he was a kid he fell through the ice and his dad had to save him. This story didn’t help calm my fears, but luckily it had a happy ending.

“I don’t really remember it, just vaguely,” Alex said. “My dad tells the story, he had to come and save me because I fell right off the dock, so that was kind of fun.”

Before Alex recounted his near-death experience, he assured me that the ice was thick enough – 16 inches to be exact (he measured it with a tape measure) – even though he heard the ice crack then that he was driving his truck to his ice castle. Oh great, I thought.

But after a few drinks my nerves calmed down and I really started having fun. I even caught my very first fish! It was just a little sunny, but that was a big deal for me.

Learn from an expert

Sitting inside the lovely furnished ice castle, I thought about how ice fishermen of the past had to catch fish in freezing temperatures. We have really come a long way. If only our ancestors could see us now.

Going back a bit, I prepared for my first ice fishing trip by talking to Ron “Boston” Doughty, an avid ice fisherman and Shakopee enthusiast. Doughty hails from, you guessed it, Boston.

Like Alex, Doughty has ice fishing in his blood. He said his dad first took him ice fishing when he was just two years old.

“It kind of resonated with me over the years,” he said.

Today, Doughty owns The Ice Zone – a unique ice fishing service that offers rental cabins for kids and families to comfortably ice fish and learn at the same time – located at Lake Thole in Shakopee. He moved there in 2018.

“The idea came from sitting in my car after fishing four days a week. I’m a building inspector in the spring and summer. In the winter I do that,” Doughty said. “Since I’ve been fishing four days a week, I’ve been like, ‘Why not just start a business and give the kids something to do other than be on their tablets?'”

Doughty said his rentals are based on lighthouse themes starting with Duluth’s Split Rock, all the way to the Portland Lighthouse in northern New England in Portland, Maine.

While talking to Doughty about his ice fishing endeavors, he provided some helpful tips to bring with me. First, he recommended I go with a minnow on a hook if I wanted to catch a big fish. For smaller fish, he recommended minnows or bluegills as bait.

Sure enough, Alex had waxes on hand and he had a bucket full of sunglasses. These guys really know what they are doing.

I asked Doughty how ice fishermen know ice is safe to walk and drive on. He said anglers travel light with minimal gear. As they walk, they check the ice along the way – manually driving a metal chisel to create a small hole. If the chisel does not break through, the ice is probably safe for walking. If the chisel pierces, they gauge the thickness with a tape measure.

Measure ice

Alex Christian measures the thickness of the ice with a meter inside his ice castle. The thickness of the ice measured 16 inches.

I’ve read that a good rule of thumb is to wait until the ice is four inches thick, which usually happens after a week of sub-freezing nights. Also check with your state agency or local tackle and bait store about ice conditions before you go ice fishing. Once near the lake or pond, always check the thickness of the ice before venturing out.

In the end, I have to say that my first ice fishing was nothing like what I expected. But would I do it again? Absoutely. I guess you can say I’m “addicted”.

Jacqueline Devine is a Southwest News Media reporter who covers the Prior Lake community.


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