Even in single digits, a day enjoying ice fishing provides a lasting warmth

Outside the window of my ice shanty, Steve and Rigby sat side by side in a haze of windblown snow. It had been about an hour, and none of us had caught a fish. Since it was our first day ice fishing this season, we were all glad enough just to be outside with each other.

Rigby had run out ahead of us, plowing snow with his muzzle. He always seems to be searching for something to retrieve and bring back to us. The dry snow sparkled in powder around him, and I remembered other mornings we had made this trip and saw lynx tracks or heard coyotes yipping before being silenced by the howl of a wolf.

The ice on the lake was about 6 inches thick, and we pulled our sleds to the spot where, later in the year, most people drive their vehicles. Ours were the only tracks in the recent snow, and it felt good to breathe the fresh, cold air with no one else out on the lake.

Maybe one of the best things about ice fishing is that it is not an activity that takes itself too seriously. The gear can be as simple as a hand auger for drilling the hole, a bucket to sit on, an ice scoop, a short rod, and a lure. And, in my case, a pop-up shanty.

Although there are some derbies and ice fishing competitions, generally, the people I know who fish through the ice do it for the simple joy of earning a few fish for dinner. A good dog by your side is a bonus, and Rigby, who doesn’t venture far away from his people, is an astute ice fishing dog.

Steve brought a blanket for him to sit on, but Rigby preferred to nap next to Steve on the ice. Sometimes Rigby visited me in my shanty, where I reached out the detachable Velcro window to scratch his ears, and he was disappointed to find I did not have a treat to dispense.

The longer I sat without catching a fish, the more time I had to reflect on how nice it was to be out there.


Smiling to myself, I thought it was sort of funny that I could feel perfectly warm on a 10-degree day outside, considering that I often feel like I am “freezing” inside a 60-degree office building while at work.

In both instances, I’m mostly sedentary. Out on the ice, instead of a keyboard, I have a rod. And, my perspective has changed.

[Surviving in the Alaska cold takes good gear, and good sense to know when and how to use it]

Like many offices, the one where I work has a heating problem. Sometime during my first winter of work, a co-worker told me that squirrels had stolen the building’s insulation to build nests. I suspect that may not be the whole story, although I can attest to squirrels entering and exiting the building that following spring and summer.

As I progressed in my career, I was let in on the fact that the thermometer on the office wall was a decoy. It does not actually control the temperature as originally intended but was still left in place. Possibly, this oversight was due to budget constraints or fiscal responsibility. Certainly, it was not for sentimental reasons.

Sometimes I will be cold and make the social mistake of stating out loud that “it is cold.” Office temperature wars have led to otherwise rational and productive people consulting a dictionary to ascertain the definition of cold only to find it can also mean a lack of affection.

In a time before the alleged squirrel insulation heist of the 1990s and the existence of remote-controlled temperature monitoring systems, an employee could boldly and, without qualifications or the help of an algorithm to decide the optimal setpoint, affect the temperature of a shared work environment.

Despite working in ruins left by the ancestors of insulation-stealing squirrels in a building with fake thermostats, I doubt employees would ever be uniformly happy just due to a temperature-controlled environment.

Yet, I was warm and happy the moment I sat down in my camp chair on the lake. I stayed that way for hours, like a day at the beach.

Maybe the office chill factor was worse than the wind chill.

Out on the ice, I can’t control Mother Nature, but I was prepared to enjoy the sunrise at our fishing spot.

I felt a tug on my line and hollered out to Steve and Rigby. I could see a good-sized rainbow trout in the greenish water at the bottom of my hole and lined it up to pull through the ice. Looking out the window, Rigby was charging toward me.

I took my fish out to the sled to pack it in snow just as Steve caught his first fish — the bite was on!

The one thing we had not considered was that Rigby has a propensity to steal food, and so he went fishing, too. Before I knew it, he was at the door of my shanty with one of our frozen fish.

Steve and I jumped to our feet and watched as Rigby dashed between us with the stolen fish, plowing into the snow and running in the scoop-butted way dogs do when they’re really having a good time.

We were laughing and falling in the snow trying to get the fish back, and I’m grateful to say that it made it through the day unharmed.

As we headed in with our fish, I realized my deep thoughts about temperature control had been interrupted. And that’s one of the greatest cures for bothersome thoughts, along with living in the moment, spending time outdoors with a good dog, being grateful for what is going well, and realizing what you can and can’t control.

Christine Cunningham

Christine Cunningham of Kenai is a lifetime Alaskan and avid hunter. She's the author, with Steve Meyer, of "The Land We Share: A love affair told in hunting stories."