Hard Water Fishin' - Missouri Style

In early December, the little town of Memphis, Missouri, is abuzz with coffee shop discussions about frozen ponds and fresh fish fillets.

After a week of below freezing temperatures, and having observed Corky at the coffee shop already telling big fish stories, I finally muster the courage to test the "hard-water fishing" opportunities available in Scotland County farm ponds. The ice is a good 4 inches thick and clear as glass. That means safe ice and, usually, hungry fish that need catchin'.

I'm not sure what part of ice fishing appeals to me the most. For starters, it's a great way to relax. Or maybe it's drilling all those holes in the ice with an auger to find fish, or trying to avoid being blown across the lake by bone-chilling winds while trying to erect a shelter. Perhaps it's the chance to pull a 6-pound channel cat through a 6-inch hole on 2-pound test line.

Yeah, catching the catfish would have to be my favorite part!

Ice fishing is a very simple sport, and you can generally get started with only a minimal investment. Before you even think about venturing onto the ice, make sure you wear warm clothes and dress in layers. Insulated boots are essential to keep your feet warm while resting for many hours on ice. I even use electric socks when it's especially cold.

Next you need an ice auger to drill holes. Augers 6-8 inches in diameter are commonly used in north Missouri, depending on the size fish you anticipate catching. Bigger is better, but it takes more work to drill bigger holes. Just make sure you drill a hole wider than the fish you plan to catch. You'll also need a plastic scoop to clean the ice chips out of your hole after drilling, as well as a 5-gallon bucket to sit on and to carry your gear.

An ultra-light ice-rod with a reel loaded with 4-pound test line is a good all-round ice- fishing rig. Some nylon or Manila rope is always good to have in case of an emergency. You'll need an assortment of ice-fishing jigs and some live bait, such as waxworms, maggots or minnows, to tip your jigs. Bring along some high-energy food. An ice-fishing shelter might make the day much more comfortable.

Early ice is the best time for fishing. Fish are more aggressive early, but as the season progresses,