Mike Campbell

Before we visited Clam Lake, Wisconsin, we had been told about the annual ice fishing contest, a Saturday in January when everyone in the town (37 residents) and a few people from neighbouring towns all head out onto the lake, drop a line and have a good time. The ice fishing contest also acts as a fundraiser for the local ATV club with prizes, raffles, a bar and BBQ – like a county fair on ice.

Even though the log cabin that we were housesitting was lakefront, we hadn’t walked out on it yet as the thickness, or thinness, of the ice had been a talking point around town. And as I had zero experience with frozen lakes and icy waters, I was content with simply looking at it. While we had encountered a number of sub -25 degree days, this winter was apparently mild for the Northwoods of Wisconsin, the ice fishing contest was even postponed for a fortnight due to the lake not freezing.

When the ice fishing day did roll around it was beautiful blue sky and a balmy two degrees. As I was dressing my daughter Andy, I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face through the window. A sensation I hadn’t felt since departing Australia over a month ago. Warmth however, was not the sensation I wanted to feel on a day I would be spending out on frozen water.

As we walked down to the lake, the first thing I noticed was the slush, or the unfrozeness of the lake.

“Isn’t there meant to be ice for ice fishing?” I thought to myself as I looked at a puddle. I was assured by the locals that the cracked ice, the slush, was just the top layer of ice breaking and the “thick” ice underneath was very safe to walk on and approximately a foot thick.

Walking on a frozen lake in Wisconsin


Most travellers live by the motto “when in Rome” and we are no different, so we ventured out onto the ice. I’d like to say we marched through the slush and that it didn’t bother us at all, but it did. I was carrying Andy while I was tiptoeing, very aware that if I fell it was going to be a cold and wet day.

A 13 year-old-boy, Hunter, drove over to us in his buggy and asked if we’d like a lift anywhere. We had never met Hunter before and I learnt that he was from a neighbouring town, Hayward. This is the generosity I love and admire from our small town adopted home, people are always eager to help. Even in the middle of a frozen lake you can still catch a ride.

Getting a lift from a local at Clam Lake


Hunter was our saviour, as I quickly learnt that the large puddle we were crossing was not going to be our biggest issue. The entire lake had soft spots that you couldn’t see until you walked on them.

As Hunter drove we could see ice was cracking under the tyres. We would get bogged and Hunter would need to rock the buggy forward and back to gain traction. He would find a hard surface and we would pick up speed and then the buggy would suddenly nose dive down a foot as the top layer of ice gave way and our bodies flung forward. He kept reassuring us that everything was safe and we had nothing to worry about, but our sporadic screams and my wife’s fingernail dents in my leg said otherwise.

Hunter became out little tour guide as he drove us around the lake past everyone’s fishing positions.

We were astonished at what people brought out on the ice, trucks, tents, BBQs, it was like a little ice picnic.

Ice fishing in Wisconsin

Giving ice fishing a try


My wife’s anxiety was at tipping point, so Hunter drove us to his family’s fishing area where we were welcomed with open arms. Apart from them having a Labrador named Bear that Andy and I could cuddle, they had converted an old caravan into an ice fishing oasis with a couch, stove, oven and even a log fire. This really was something else, and we were in the middle of a lake.

Camping on the ice at Clam Lake


I’m sure it was just in our minds, but as the day went on it felt like the ice was melting. We saw a 4WD leaving and it looked like it was crossing a river not driving on a frozen lake.

Driving through the ice lake


My departure was stamped when I saw two dogs hightailing it to land. I figured they knew something I didn’t or they were heading to the BBQ tent. Either way, my ice fishing day had come to an end.

Dogs playing in the ice at Calm Lake


It was a surreal experience seeing trucks, tents, converted caravans in the middle of a lake and people sitting in chairs dangling a little rod into a hole in the ice. However, at the end of the day ice fishing is the same as beach fishing, rock fishing, deep-sea fishing and any kind of fishing. It is about friends and families enjoying the outdoors together. And I’m in for that any day of the week.

Things to know

  • Don’t be the first or last person on the ice
  • It is normal for people to offer you a beer while you’re still digesting your porridge
  • Wear thermals, even if you find a friend with a converted caravan that has a log fire, as you’re out on the ice all day
  • Mid to late January is ice fishing contest season
  • Only go out on the ice with someone that knows the area

Mike Campbell and his wife Inga, along with their daughter Andy, have packed, donated or sold everything they own and taken their graphic design studio on the road for a year, attempting to housesit their way through North America. You can connect with them and read about their adventures at www.liveimmediately.com

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.