Food: Ice fishing for Christmas presents
There’s always something a little exciting about “first ice.” This is a term used a lot by those who ice fish and successful anglers know this is a time when big fish bite and tip-up flags fling forth with satisfying frequency.
However, first ice can be tricky and as I stepped from land to solid water a couple of weeks ago, my heart skipped a beat. With my trusty spud, I scoped out the conditions, finding the ice thick and safe enough to complete my mission, which was to catch a Christmas present.
It has been a number of years since I’ve been out on first ice, but for me it’s one of the most treasured periods of the year. There is no quieter place than a frozen lake when snowmobile trails have not yet opened. It is the ultimate in quietness, and the solitude descends like a welcoming shroud.
As I proceeded to hand drill a few holes, only the strident calls of some raucous blue jays could be heard off in the distance. There were also a few chick-a-dees in the trees on shore and their quick “peent, peent, peent” put a friendly note in the air.
Over the years, I have found that you can get a lot of thinking done on an overturned bucket in the middle of a frozen lake while watching for tip-up flags. Anything and everything comes to mind and that was certainly the case for me, but also going through my head was the mantra “fish please bite, please bite, please bite” and at a pretty steady cadence, too. That’s because I basically have no backup plan if my fishing outings fail.
While ice fishing is usually very relaxing for me, it takes on a more urgent tendency in the weeks before Christmas. About 10 years ago, I found that out one winter when a series of unforeseen expenditures left me totally broke before the holidays. I knew I was going to have to get creative as far as gift giving was concerned. That year, like this one, the ice was thick enough to fish on and I was lucky. I caught several large walleyes, filleted them out and wrapped up a few to give to my dad as a Christmas present.
I was pleasantly surprised when I handed him that package. In my opinion, it wasn’t much of a gift but his face lit up when he realized that fresh walleye, pulled from a frozen Northwoods lake, were now in his possession.
He raved about those fillets for weeks and to this day, once the ice comes, he always asks me if I’ve been fishing and wants to know the latest report, which I’ve determined is a big hint as to what he really wants for Christmas. He tells me frequently “if you catch too many, bring them here.”
As I sat on my bucket watching for “flags,” I got to thinking about that long ago Christmas I gave walleye fillets to Dad for a gift and came to the realization what a good thing it was. For sure, fishing for gift fillets is a dicey proposition. It’s not every year the ice is safe enough to fish before Christmas. If it is, then you have to beseech the walleye spirits to find the minnow at the end of your tip-up enticing enough to eat, set the hook and then, hopefully, bring it up through the hole.
I’m glad to be back in the ice fishing mode again, though. Lots of times before I go out, I make a hearty soup and one of my favorites is the Beer Cheese recipe I’ve included for this week.
I am happy to report that I did catch a couple of walleyes on my “first ice” excursion, but not nearly enough to make a proper gift, so my quest goes on. That’s OK though, I’ve got a couple of weeks to continue “shopping.” And for me, there’s no better place to do that than on the solid end of an over turned bucket in the middle of a frozen lake.
Beer Cheese Soup
12 oz. bock beer
8 slices bacon
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, minced
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, minced
1 (10 1/2 oz.) can condensed chicken broth
1/4 cup flour
1 cup half-and-half
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 Tbs. sugar
salt and pepper
Open beer and let stand while dicing vegetables. Sauté bacon until crisp. Drain and crumble. In large soup kettle, sauté vegetables in two tablespoons of bacon grease until soft. Add chicken broth.
Fill chicken broth can with beer and add to mixture. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
Pour remaining beer into a small mixing bowl and whisk in flour. Gradually add to broth, stirring constantly, until thick. Add half and half, bacon and cheese. Heat until cheese melts. Stir in sugar.
Add salt and pepper to taste.