A Look Back

When you speak with most tournament ice anglers, they share stories of growing up in the ice belt, setting up tip-ups for pike, and sitting in a converted camper trailer with their fathers, grandfathers or uncles jigging and listening to fish tales.  Although I did ice fish as a young child, my story is not quite the same.  I certainly did not fish often enough as a child for it to play a major role in my current positions.

Growing up in the city of Sheboygan, heavily involved in Boy Scouts and church, I didn’t have a ton of time to “do nothing” and go fishing.  In my family, weekends were a bit structured.  We had a lot to fit into a weekend, or at least it seemed that way as a young boy.  On Saturdays, we had scouting events or we did housework because we were busy doing scouting activities during the week.  Each and every Sunday morning, we attended Sunday school and church, and we didn’t miss many Sundays, especially not for ice fishing.

Fortunately, my grandfather could persuade my dad into letting us go out with him now and then, usually just for a few hours, short enough so that we kids would not get cold and bored.  With Grandpa, we would set up tip-ups and we would attempt to jig for pan fish.  I recall a day on Elkhart Lake when we caught a nice Northern pike.  I believe it was the same day there was a gentleman spearing carp next to a small outlet of the lake.  It’s funny the things you remember from childhood events.

I remember a day on a lake near Montello, WI, with my grandfather and my great-great uncle.  We set up not far from shore, and I learned I was entirely too impatient as a child to ice fish for pan fish.  It makes me chuckle to remember watching my Great-Great Uncle Richard as he caught fish after fish, and unless you watched him closely, you would never know he was catching anything.  He could set the hook, reel in the fish, unhook it, and slip it in the pail that he sat on in one smooth, quick movement.  In the World Ice Fishing Championship, this is called sneaky catching; in 1988, it was just how Richard did it – no electronics, no gas auger, no fancy tungsten jigs or plastic baits.  He had a 28” medium action rod, Schooley reel with the same line he had on for 10 years, a simple teardrop jig and a wax worm.  He could have made the USA Ice Fishing Team, no doubt about it.  Uncle Richard was GOOD!  I learned that day that I could look down the holes and see the fish, not that it would help me to catch fish that day, but it was entertaining.

Fast forward to March of 2010 when my grandfather and I ventured onto Summit Lake in Wisconsin, hoping to find out what the crowd was catching.  That day became one of the most successful and fun ice fishing memories I have shared with my grandpa.  We caught nearly our limit of crappies sized just right for the frying pan.  I have no doubt we would have caught the limit if given another hour or so.  I still remember what it was that got them to bite (besides drilling 45-50 holes in a small area and jumping around from hole to hole).  It was a chartreuse piece of plastic and a horizontal jig, simple and quite effective that day.  We even got a sunburn.

As I look forward to my second World Ice Fishing Championship, I can’t help but reflect back and give thanks to Uncle Richard, my grandfather and my dad for making sure I had a little time on the ice and for planting that seed. We didn’t have the big converted camper, and we were not out every weekend, but the time we shared, the memories we made, and the little things I learned have added to my wonderful experiences on the ice.

Story by Jeff Kelm, member of the USA Ice Fishing Team competing in the upcoming World Ice Fishing Championship in Wausau, Wisconsin.

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Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro is vice president of communications for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and its Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar campaigns where she works to recruit newcomers to recreational fishing and boating and increase awareness of aquatic conservation. Stephanie grew up in the Florida Keys as the daughter of a flats fishing guide. Outside of work, you can find her fishing and boating with her family on the Potomac River in the Northern Neck of Virginia.