People who only experience winter while rushing from the house to the car to work find this hard to believe, but I’ve never felt cold while ice fishing. What they don’t get is that for us outdoorsfolk, being cold represents a failure of knowledge and preparation. I know how to dress for the weather, therefore I stay warm—except, that is, for my hands. Out on the hardwater, my exposed fingers ache and burn and turn red. Or they had better, because cold hands are the mark of a good day of ice fishing.
I didn’t always understand this. During my first ice-fishing seasons, I desperately raged against the freezing of the digits. And I’ve got the overflowing bin of rejected mitts and gloves to prove it. But the cold, hard truth is, you just can’t bait a hook or land a fish or even crank a reel with covered fingers. All the key activities of ice fishing—right down to pouring a cup of coffee—require the dexterity of unsheathed hands.
Having cold hands means you’re catching fish, or trying to catch fish. Cold hands are a badge of honour. Cold feet, by contrast, are a mark of poor planning and bad habits. If your feet are cold, you need better boots and wool socks or you need to get off your lazy butt, wiggle your toes and walk around a little.
Eventually, I came to realize that ice-fishing mittens and gloves aren’t for keeping hands warm. They’re for warming up stiff, stinging hands so you can take them off again as soon as possible. So when you go ice fishing with me, remember to bring big fleecy mittens and a pocketful of handwarmers, because we’re going to be catching fish—or at least freezing our fingers off trying.