The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 6, 2014

Cross column: Exorcising winter's demons ... finally

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Given my druthers, by now, I’d druther be fishing from my boat.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that there is much likelihood of that happening any time soon on area lakes.

So like the rest of you, any fishing I have done in recent days has been through a hole in the ice.

But at this late date, at least we can call it ice-fishing lite.

With sub-zero temperatures (hopefully) behind us, there no longer is a real need to haul along shelters, heaters, propane tanks to the lake.

After months of loading and unloading all of that equipment, gearing up for late season ice-fishing is refreshingly simple.

A pail, limited tackle, bait, a couple of rods and depending on where you’re fishing, perhaps a flasher, and you’re in business.

In most instances, on lakes where there is lots of fishing activity and overnight temperatures near or above freezing, even the gas auger can be left behind since the holes from the previous day will remain open.

Ice fishing at this time of the year is to enjoy the best of what the sport has to offer, yet a way to exorcise those demons brought on by all of those frigid temperatures and piles of snow over the past several months.

I’ve made a few fishing forays to area lakes in the last few days to cash in on the late-season panfish bite.

There has been little danger of sunburn, to be sure.

But while the weather hardly has been balmy, at least it has been comfortable enough to sit out in the open on a pail while catching a meal or two of bluegills and crappies.

Unlike those wintery days when we’re all isolated within the confines of shelters, huddled next to hissing heaters, being out in the wide-open spaces brings a social aspect to the sport.

The dozens of other anglers kibitzing with one another, moving from hole to hole seeking active fish, it becomes a collective celebration of spring.

To top it off, the fishing has been pretty good, too.

I’m sure someone has an explanation for it, but unlike those mid-winter bites that tend to happen at inconvenient hours — in darkness and frequently, in the wee hours of the morning — the bite just before ice-out tends to be at more convenient and civilized times.

I don’t claim to be smart enough to know why this is.

It’s just nice to be able to catch a mess of fish on a weekend afternoon and still arrive home in daylight and early enough to fillet, fry and serve them for supper.

There really is nothing that compares with sitting down to a meal of fish that only hours earlier still swam in cold water.

The shelter, the heater, all of the other cold-weather ice-fishing gear have been stashed. I am done with them.

A specter of this winter past, the snow blower, still haunts my garage, silent, poised for more action.

I’ll admit that these past months would have been even more trying without the machine that faithfully chewed through the all-too-frequent snowfalls.

Nevertheless, like someone whistling past a graveyard, I’ve tried not to look at it as the garage door rumbles up and I walk past the machine every morning.

Instead, I see the boat awaiting preparation for the ice-out crappie bite, a lawnmower to tune, a motorcycle that needs a new rear tire.

In keeping with a vow made several weeks ago that I was done moving any more snow, I resisted the urge to fire the snow blower up on Friday morning.

A week into April and several weeks into spring, I will let mother nature, unkind as she has been, clean up this most recent mess she left in my driveway.

In the meantime, thank goodness for four-wheel-drive.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at (507) 344-6376 or by e-mail at