Ice fishing took considerable patience

Jerry Apps
The “try to keep warm” approach to ice fishing on Lake Monona Bay in Madison, Wisconsin.

With deer season and Thanksgiving over, when I was a kid, thoughts on the home farm turned to ice fishing. It was about this time that Waushara County’s lakes had two or three inches of ice, enough for us to try our luck.

With the barn chores finished by late Saturday morning, my two brothers, dad and I piled into our 1936 Plymouth on our way to Mt. Morris Lake, our favorite ice fishing spot.

In those days we mainly fished with tip-ups, a device designed so that when a fish took the bait—a minnow—a little flag flew up. Arriving at the lake, we punched several holes through the ice with an ice chisel, which the blacksmith in Wild Rose had made for us from the rear axle of a Model T Ford. We fished for northern pike, always optimistic to “catch a big one” we made the holes ten inches or so in diameter.

With the holes open, we threaded a minnow on each hook, set our tip-ups in place (we each had two tip-ups as I recall) and made our way to shore where we built a little campfire. There, we could keep warm and watch our tip-ups. On a good day, we might have a half-dozen “tip-ups” as we announced when a flag went up.

Ice fishing took considerable patience—some days we’d catch a half-dozen pike. Other times we caught nothing. But I’ve never forgotten the fun it was, especially the storytelling around the little campfire.

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: Ice fishing—a study in patience.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to