Winters in South Dakota can be hard, sometimes brutal, and as anyone who lives in this area can tell you, unforgiving. But there is serenity within this frozen harshness and though sometimes that may seem hard to believe, most will agree it is there; you simply have to look for it.

Lakes and rivers during winter for example, can be very ethereal. The spectacle created by crystalline reflections of light from an early morning dawn upon ice-laden trees and banks can be breathtaking. A sunset in the west, radiating different hues of red within the darkening sky is not only tranquil when viewed from the vast openness of the frozen Missouri River, but also a beautiful reminder of how wonderful life in this area can be. If you are willing to brave the winters South Dakota has to offer, then be prepared to see some of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring tapestries of ice and snow.

Ice fishermen have long known of the beauty that can be found within the winter months upon the ice covered lakes and rivers of our area. They are the ones who travel snow-packed roadways and truck pounds of equipment and supplies to destinations with no room service or fresh towels. They are the ones who find solace upon the ice, amongst the frozen tundra, waiting patiently for a fish or two, all the while taking in the grandeur that surrounds them.

“I’ve been out on the ice and fished for hours and hours and never caught a fish, but that doesn’t matter. It is being outside, relaxing, watching the sun rise and the sun set out on a lake.”

Greg Stulgies understands the beauty of sitting on a lake punching eight inch holes into the ice hoping to catch a dinner’s worth of fish. It is the environment that captivates him and it is the serenity and meditative atmosphere that ice fishing offers that has him hooked, so to speak.

Greg was introduced to angling at a young age and remembers with great fondness the first time he followed his father to the Missouri River near Omaha to do some fishing.

“I had a Zebco 202 rod and reel and I went to do my first cast and threw the whole fishing pole into the river. My dad snagged it and brought it back in. I was ten years old then and amazed.”

That experience and others like it helped create a man that appreciates the sport of fishing whether it be open-water fishing, flyfishing, or ice fishing.

Greg began fishing in his mid-twenties, but only for a short while.

He took what he refers to as a sabbatical to focus on his business and raising three children. Sure, there were times he would take his family fishing and bestow upon them the knowledge and appreciation for the sport that his father had given him, but life kept him very busy.

Twenty-five years later, Greg has returned to fishing with renewed passion for the sport, and a newly acquired ice-fishing partner in his wife Amy, who now accompanies Greg from time-to-time upon icy lakes and rivers.

“Amy has her own flasher, poles, coveralls, and she sits out there and loves it. I have a heater in the hut and it is warm. We can sit in there in just shirts and pants.”

Now before I go further, I should explain what a flasher is, as well as some of the other tools of the trade used in the sport of ice fishing.

A flasher is a device similar to a depth finder. What it does is use sonar technology to enable the fisherman to “see” below the ice. By lowering the transducer or “eye” of the flasher into the icy depths of a lake or river a fisherman can retrieve such data as the depth, variations in the terrain, vegetation, and if there is any fish in the area.

The transducer sends the information it collects to a screen in which a fisherman can view what is happening below. The sonar is able to bounce off fish large and small giving the fisherman valuable insight into the area chosen to hopefully catch dinner. Of course flashers vary in price and size and a fisherman could spend a lot of coin to achieve a clearer view of the icy depths below if he or she chose to do so.

The hut or ice shanty is a shelter that fisherman use to keep out of the weather and make ice fishing more comfortable. These shelters come in a variety of sizes but all need to be portable and in most cases, lightweight, for transporting on and off the ice. Huts can be made from canvas, nylon, wood, or whatever the fisherman can imagine.

They can be furnished with heaters, bunks, grills and even recliners if the fisherman is passionate enough to desire that level of comfort and willing to truck a recliner around on frozen ice!

When I think of Ice Shanties I think of the classic movie “Grumpy Old Men” and the ice fishing shanty village portrayed in that film.

Wooden shanties along with modified truck campers and garden sheds and anything else suitable enough to keep the chilly fingers of Jack Frost at bay were used in that movie and I always felt that would be a wonderful way to spend some cold winter days. Perched by a Mr. Heater listening to some music or a game on the radio, gently jigging the line of my fishing pole until I either fall asleep or catch a fish. Either way it would be very relaxing.

Mr. Stulgies tells me that there are many implements available to make ice fishing more convenient and he has some of them. Motorized ice auger to drill holes, a flasher to pinpoint the fish, two ice huts: one single person, the other large enough for he and his wife to fish in comfortably just to name a few. However, Greg also states that if you are just starting out, none of that is needed. A hand-powered auger, a fifteen-dollar fishing pole, and a bucket to sit on will do. Simple is not bad when it comes to ice fishing.

“I ran into a guy last year that was fishing Lake Yankton. He had a couple of older poles and a bucket full of Perch. He had no flasher and was using a hand-powered auger. He left the lake that day with a lot more fish than I did.”

Greg and his family make ice-fishing trips during the winter months to Eden, South Dakota, a small town near the South Dakota/North Dakota border. They have been doing this for the last five years and now that the new season is here, they look forward to making a pilgrimage or two once again.

“There is this awesome little house we rent and usually six or seven of us stay there and we rent it for ten days. My wife and I are hoping to make it up there soon. The ice is forming early so that may be possible.”

Generally weather is not a factor when it comes to fishing up North because everyday is used to it’s fullest potential. Greg tells me about one of last year’s fishing expeditions that took place while staying in Eden. It was a day that a full-blown blizzard had come about, yet that did not deter Greg and his posse of ice fishing commandos from hitting the ice in search of fish. It just changed the way they normally ice fish.

“The weather was really, really bad as far as wind, cold, and heavy snow. We fished out of our trucks the whole time. You pull up, drill a hole, and roll down your window and jig while the truck heater blasts away.”

Greg is reminded how difficult packing gear can be in blizzard conditions with winds reaching fifty miles an hour.

“Our huts were staked down but leaning because of the strong winds. Packing up in a blizzard is very eventful. You have to make sure nothing blows away as you are taking it all down. I will never forget that, a big time blizzard. It was fun and exciting. It was an adventure.” Greg says with a smile.

Ice fishing can be adventurous and also dangerous. You must use good judgment and always be aware of the inherent dangers associated with ice fishing.

“I’m the type of person before I jump into anything I research it. I think that is because my kids encourage me to do so.”

Being safe is Greg Stulgies top priority when it comes to ice fishing. Understanding and respecting the conditions and the limits associated with this winter sport helps to ensure that a good, memorable experience can be taken each time he and his loved ones hit the ice.

“As with anything, hunting, fishing in the open water or on ice, whatever, as long as you are cautious, careful, and don’t do stupid things you will be safe.”

With that being said we move on to a very interesting story about the one that DID NOT get away! It is a story of struggle and triumph in the face of overwhelming odds. It is a story you may find hard to believe yet I assure you it is true. This is the story of the Northern Pike!

“We were up by Webster, South Dakota,” the story begins.

The plan was to Crappie fish and Greg had a setup for that ready to go. A sixteen-inch pole with two-pound test line was the weapon of choice, more than adequate to bring in small Crappie. However, as Greg was about to discover, a fish much larger than a Crappie was about to hit.

“I looked down into the hole and all I saw were spots. I was like oh my goodness! It was the back of the fish.”

The fish Greg is talking about is a Northern Pike, one of the big dogs of the lakes and rivers of South Dakota. For Greg, things were about to get exciting!

“All of a sudden my rod took off, and for twenty minutes I was fighting a fish on two pound test.”

For twenty minutes Greg did battle with the large Northern only to have the line go slack. Greg and his brother-in-law came to the conclusion that the big one had gotten away. That would have been totally conceivable considering the connection between the fish and Greg’s fishing pole was light fishing line; about as light as fishing line can get.

Just as Greg was about to cut his line, the drag took off one last time, making that exciting buzzing sound all anglers live for! The fish was not gone and the fight was back on!

“After another five minutes or so we got him in. He was big and my brother-in-law dropped him three times before we got him. He was afraid of getting bit. It will be a fish I will never forget.”

Greg and his worthy advisory posed for a picture that day and as fate would have it, the Northern Pike became fillets that were quite delicious and very filling.

So as you can see, ice fishing can be a wonderful and joyous sport you can share with your family and friends and it can grant you memories that will last a lifetime, just ask Mr. Stulgies.

Serenity can be found in the cold months of a South Dakota winter, you just have to know where to look. Perhaps after reading this you may set your sights on ice fishing and discover what many fisherman know to be true, that there is beauty and solace in this frozen tundra and all you need to experience some of it is a bucket, a hand-powered auger, and a rod and reel. Keep your eyes and your mind open to the wonders of Mother Nature and appreciate the simple things life has to offer. After all, what harm can come from stepping off the fast moving escalator of life and slowing down for awhile to appreciate the things we seldom notice? No harm at all I say!