Icy relationship great for father, son
Fishing buddies stalk crappie, walleye at frozen reservoir
Bonding over a nice cold drink at a restaurant just isn’t the same as bonding over a thick layer of ice with hungry crappie underneath.
Days of single-digit temperatures created perfect conditions last week for avid anglers who use their feet instead of boats to reach fishing hot spots and drill holes through five inches of ice separating them from their prey.
About a dozen anglers were scattered across the ice near the east end of the Marion Reservoir dam Thursday, alternately dipping flashers and lures through three times as many auger-drilled holes.
For Denny Kruger of Goessel, just a year retired from a 31-year stint with Boeing and prior jobs with Cessna and Learjet, ice fishing has been a pastime since his days growing up in northwest Iowa.
“The lakes I used to go fishing at in the winter time, they would drive road graders out there to get the snow out of the way so people could drive their cars out on the ice,” Kruger said. “Everybody had an ice house that was 8 feet wide, between 10 and 12 feet long. It was fully furnished, you know. Stove, shelves, everything you could possibly need. You could sit in there in T-shirts and fish.”
As Denny stood dangling a line through a hole, his son Derek stood nearby doing the same.
“Any day fishing is better than a day at work,” Derek said.
There was a tug on Denny’s line.
“Another aquarium crappie,” he sighed when he pulled up the fish. “Not big enough to keep.”
The pair began the day at French Creek Cove, walking out on ice just far enough to be over a deeper channel.
“We were sitting on our buckets out there this morning, and a crack came through right in front of our holes,” Denny said. “Water was coming out of the ice. That was about as bad a crack as I’ve sat through.”
While the sudden appearance of the crack was startling, it wasn’t alarming.
“Where’s the ice going to go?” Denny said. “It’s got no place to go. It can’t separate and you fall between. That doesn’t happen. It can’t happen.”
Denny has never ended up in the water when ice fishing, but he’s seen it happen. One winter he went to Cheney Lake by himself and saw someone ice fishing. He talked to two men in a pickup who agreed to go out on the ice with him to try their luck.
“I said, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m going to follow that guy’s tracks all the way out there,’” Denny recalled. “I was in the lead, and they were on either side of me about 10 feet. Pretty soon, whoosh, there’s one that went through. It was only about four feet deep.”
Soaked and freezing, that fishing partner headed back to shore while Denny and the other continued.
“We went about 30 yards farther and he went through,” Denny said.
Air temperature, wind, topography of the lake, and water currents are factors that contribute to uneven ice formation.
“If you haven’t been out on the ice yet, you always want to drill holes about every 20 feet or so to get a feel for how thick it is,” Derek said.
Pointing to a distant offshore area near Cottonwood Point, Denny said, “I don’t think I’d try it out there.”
Suddenly, Denny’s rod tip bent.
“That’s probably another white bass,” he said. “Oh, no, I finally got a keeper. What do you know; we get to add to our little pile. That’s the first decent crappie I’ve caught all day.”
Denny cast a glance toward Derek.
“Mine’s bigger than yours,” he said as he worked to unhook the crappie.
Derek moved closer, then dropped his lure into the hole Denny’s crappie had come out of.
“Hey, get out of my hole,” Denny said. “What are you doing?”
“You looked busy,” Derek said.
“I’m not busy now,” Denny replied.
Reel spinning, Derek cracked a small smile.
“I’m moving,” he said.
Such banter was common between the two, who fish together often.
“I have four kids and he’s the only one that likes to go fishing,” Denny said. “I don’t know where I went wrong with the others.”
The Krugers’ cache held walleye and crappie. Anything else they catch goes back in the lake.
“In the last 20 years, I don’t think I’ve fished for anything but walleye and crappie,” Denny said. “Last time my mouth touched a white bass was probably 25 years ago, and it’s not going to touch another one. We are fishing snobs.”
Denny said they probably would return for more fishing Friday, but struck a melancholy tone as he looked toward the weekend.
“Thirty-seven today, 49 by Monday, and rain? That rain is going to melt this ice so fast,” he said. “I’d rather it stay cold.”