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John Campbell's 'Great Outdoors' - Ice Fishing

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Ice fishing will never replace open-water angling in my affections, but it will do until spring returns.

Three of the biggest thrills of open-water angling the detection of the bite, the hookset and the battle are substantially subdued in ice fishing.

And, of course, personal comfort is harder to come by when the wind chill factor falls below zero, as it often does during an Iowa winter.

But the central challenge of all angling (and the sport's fundamental appeal), finding fish and getting them to bite, remains the same.

And in the long, dark days of January and February, watching the slender tip of a 24-inch pole for the slight movement signifying a bite beats watching strangers catching lunker bass on television.

Especially when you have an electronic flasher to signify that a fish is near your jig.

Some people criticize flasher units which show the bottom, your jig and any nearby fish as an unfair advantage. In effect, flashers tell you if there are fish in the water column beneath your hole, and they signal the presence of a catchable fish, enabling the angler to be fully alert to the subtle rod tip movements that betray a softly biting fish.

Not only does it enhance an angler's effectiveness, it also adds video game excitement to a sport that could otherwise get dull.

Our screens were almost constantly lit up Sunday with the red lines indicating interested fish on what turned out to be one of the easiest and most comfortable ice fishing outings I've ever experienced.

My nephew, Sam Patterson of Atkins, took me to a secret Benton County lake where we set up his tent over the same holes through which he had pulled crappies the day before.

With his propane heater purring, we sat in gloveless comfort watching the red lines of crappies converge with the yellow lines our jigs.

When our spring bobbers dipped, we cranked up a crappie.

The only lulls in the action occurred when we sloppily allowed our wax worms to get too ragged to appeal to the otherwise not-too-discriminating fish.

In three hours we caught our limits of identical 9.5-inch crappies.

It took us another hour to clean them all, and by evening my wife and I were enjoying the meal I would request if it were my last night on Death Row.

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