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Ice fishing clinic lures outdoor crowd

Syndey Emmel of North Liberty enjoys her first ice fishing experience at F.W. Kent Park Sunday, Jan. 11, at the county’s annual free ice fishing clinic, while dad Geoff watches nearby. (photo by Lori Lindner)

JOHNSON COUNTY– It was a great day for fishing, even if the fish didn’t catch on.
About 22 participants joined Johnson County Conservation Program Director Brad Freidhof at F.W. Kent Park near Tiffin on Sunday, Jan. 11, to learn the basics of ice fishing and try their hands at catching the big one.
“We have phenomenal weather,” said Freidhof of the above-freezing temperatures and sunshine. “I was hoping that would turn the fish on today, but so far I’m not seeing that.”
For the last couple of winters, the annual ice fishing clinic hosted by the county has been cancelled; once due to lack of strong ice, and once due to extremely cold wind chills.
Last Sunday, the ice was solid and the sun was warm.
“It’s a good turnout,” Freidhof said. The annual ice fishing clinic is meant to encourage people to try the sport in the winter at least once.
“The real goal is to impart the information as to how to do the fishing, so they can go out and do it at any time,” Freidhof said. “We want to teach them what ice fishing is all about, what equipment it takes, what kind of knowledge you need to be safe on a body of water. For people who haven’t experienced that before, we want to be that resource.”
Freidhof demonstrated equipment like hand and gas-powered augers, skimmers, poles, depth finders and bait to get participants started. Once holes were drilled, lines were dropped and it became a waiting game.
That’s all part of the lure of fishing, said young Madilyn Vitti of Iowa City. Originally from San Diego, Vitti and her mom have been in Iowa for three years. Madilyn said she learned deep sea fishing while in California, but had never tried ice fishing and thought it would be fun.
“There is one thing that is similar to fishing in both places,” said Madilyn. “You have to always be patient.”
Patience was definitely a virtue last weekend, as bites on the lines were few and far between.
“The fish have been pretty closed-lipped,” said Freidhof. “The recent cold snap must have just shut them down. From what I’ve heard from other accounts, people aren’t seeing fish anywhere,” said Freidhof.
Some of it may be in part due to last year’s harsh winter conditions causing fish kills in several smaller area ponds, and even a minor fish kill at Kent Park Lake. When that happens, it can diminish fish populations, so Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) biologist Paul Sleeper and fisheries technician Chris Mack help monitor affected bodies of water and make recommendations to keep fish populations healthy and abundant. With bigger bodies of water like the 27-acre Kent Park Lake, natural reproduction typically replenishes the lake’s populations of blue gill, crappies, large mouth bass and walleye when problems occur, said Freidhof.
But most of the people fishing didn’t seem to mind getting skunked on the lake when half the fun was getting outside to enjoy a reprieve from the brutal cold of the previous week.
That’s what it’s all about for Judy Joyce, president of Take a Kid Outdoors (TAKO) Iowa, a volunteer organization that partners with entities like the Johnson County Conservation Department, the DNR and local clubs, parks and recreation departments to provide outdoor activities for children and families.
“We team up with Johnson County Conservation to encourage people to keep going outdoors,” said Joyce. TAKO offers a rewards program that gives participants points for attending outdoor events– whether sponsored by cities, counties, clubs or TAKO itself– and a chance to win prizes with accumulated points at a culminating event this summer.
“Our overall goal is just to keep getting people outside, so if we offer multiple events and work together, maybe people will make a habit of it,” said Joyce. “We are hoping people will meet others who enjoy similar activities and create a social network, so going outside becomes trendy.”
TAKO Johnson County is hosting an ice fishing event this Saturday, Jan. 17, at 1:30 p.m. at North Ridge Park Pond, 2250 Holiday Rd., in Coralville. The event is free and open to the public, as are all TAKO events. Advance registration is encouraged, but not required. Visit www.takeakidoutdoors.org/index.htm for more information, or find the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Take-A-Kid-Outdoors-Iowa/199038683472954.
Freidhof agreed that experiences in the outdoors can bring benefits that last a lifetime, and the Johnson County Conservation Department is available to help make that happen. Call 319-645-2315 or visit http://www.johnson-county.com/dept_conservation for programs, park information and services.
“If people have any other questions, they should contact the conservation office. We can help them find the information, so they can go out and experience the outdoors.
“The conservation board is all about getting people outdoors, protecting nature, giving them a place to recreate and create experiences and memories.” Freidhof said. “They will remember the first fish they caught; they have that experience and it will stick for a lifetime. Then if they ever have an opportunity, they just might try it again.”