When I was a kid, I had this recurring nightmare. I was probably around 7 or 8 at the time. In it, I would be walking down a dirt road…

Ice fishing in Montana

When I was a kid, I had this recurring nightmare.

I was probably around 7 or 8 at the time. In it, I would be walking down a dirt road with my dad and in the road were a series of big, muddy puddles, the kind you get after a long spring rain.

As we walked, I would skirt around the puddles, running ahead and looking back.

The trouble in this nonsensical nightmare always started when my father would decided to walk through the puddle.

Upon stepping in the water, he would be sucked in up to his knees. Then his torso. The water would suddenly gain depth, like a gateway to another dimension and he would hang on to the side, struggling to get out, as I would run back in a panic. Just as I arrived at the puddle, I would see a flash of a dark, prehistoric creature in the depths of the dark water beneath him and just as it was making its move to bite off his leg or worse, drag him under, I would inevitably wake up in my bed, panicked.

Probably lots to psychoanalyze there, but sticking with the obvious, the fear of what lurks beneath the surface has always stuck with me. Perhaps the leftover message an ancestor tormented by sea creatures.

For this and so many other reasons a career in deep sea marine biology never appealed. Then again, neither did ice fishing, for obvious and equally terrifying reasons.

Falling through the ice? Spooky. Coolers full of Busch Light… the horror.

Otto with a perch

Prior to this winter, my one foray into ice fishing was on a windswept lake in southeastern Wyoming, which, also obvious to anyone who has ever been there, is a terrible and stupid place to go ice fishing if you have any intention of enjoying yourself.

This winter, when we decided to take the kids to just “get out of the house for the love of God,” I wondered if we might have more fun staying behind and say, scrubbing desiccated toothpaste off the bathroom mirror or chiseling frozen dog poop out of the back yard.

The thing I didn’t understand about ice fishing — which I must say, I impart with great glee — is once the water is really good and frozen, there’s really not much you can do to get into trouble.

Take summer fishing with young kids for instance. That involves any number of hazards — impaled hands, legs, faces, toes from hooks, broken fly rods, spin rods chucked out the back of the boat, falls in, on and out of the boat, life jackets wrapped so tight they cut off circulation to the brain, being poked in the eye with the dog’s tail because she won’t just SIT!”

With ice fishing you simply upgrade your choice of beverage and seating and turn the kids loose. It’s vacation on ice.

No matter how hard they try (and they will), the kids can’t fall down the hole in the ice. There’s little to no impalement, given the lack of casting. No wind knots or mosquito bites or rattlesnakes. Cold toes? Sure, but what’s that compared to the vigilance required with a two-year-old intent on throwing himself over the side of the boat in April in Montana?

And no matter how hard they try, those lurking creatures from the depths have a really hard time breaking through that foot and a half of ice, so you can simply check it off the worry list.

For any mom looking for a relaxing afternoon, might I recommend grabbing a nice bottle of Pinot, the the old auger from the barn and some P cord (tie it to the ice ladle and then to your chair because they will throw that down the hole in the ice). Then spend a perfectly pleasant afternoon pulling in some perch.

To be honest, I’m not sure why it took me so long.

Ice fishing in Montana

By Shauna Stephenson. Shauna Stephenson has been a writer, photographer, communicator and conservationist for nearly two decades, the past decade being spent at Trout Unlimited, working on projects…