No doubt about it, ice fishing is the most hair-raising endeavor anglers can attempt in these parts.
One reason is the ice season seldom lasts more than four weeks, and some winters it is even less. For instance, there wasn't a lick of ice during the winter of 1991-92.
What's more, it was illegal to ice fish in Kansas before 1958. So, Kansas fishermen aren't accustomed to it as are their brethren in the northern states, where ice fisherman have frolicked for several centuries.
Another complication is the ice on Kansas lakes is never as thick as it becomes up north, where even trucks, carrying scores of anglers to villages of ice houses, travel across vast expanses of ice.
The fears of Kansans are further compounded by the inevitable news stories about a truck breaking through the thick Minnesota ice or a large segment of ice breaking free and floating a horde of anglers across Lake Erie.
Yet, even hard-boiled Minnesotans admit the most daunting adventure is always the first trip of the season, when the ice is merely three inches thick.
On that first timorous traipsing across thin ice, anglers' knees become rubbery, knuckles turn white, cold sweat runs from the arm pits, hearts grow faint and stomachs go queasy.
There is more than thin ice to dread; there is the fear of falling. Unless there is a coating of thick snow, the ice can be slicker than soap. And anglers who don't wear ice cleats on their boots are prone to suffer some bone-breaking, tendon-tearing, concussion-rendering falls.
Thus, most Kansans walk gingerly across the ice while uttering silent prayers.
Despite all those prayers and cautious steps, accidents do occur. In fact, an ice fisherman crashed through thin ice two weeks ago today just south of the Ozawkie causeway at Perry Lake.
Nonetheless, a cadre of avid ice anglers exists hereabouts and they are seldom unnerved by the skin-biting cold, thin ice and fears of falling. These fellows, of course, are the first to test the ice. As the winter solstice approaches, they begin counting the days until the ice coats the lakes.
Two are Floyd Ott of Eudora and James Stephens of Lee's Summit, Mo.
This year Stephens was more daring than Ott. He ventured to Clinton Lake on Jan. 3, when there were large unfrozen and unsafe sections to traverse.
Despite the precarious state of Clinton's ice, Stephens found several packs of ravenous crappie and white bass, which he readily caught. It was a thrill, he said, figuring how to get around the thin ice and open water and then to catch several humongous white bass and crappie.
By Jan. 5, the lake, except for one massive fissure that ran across the Deer Creek arm, was safe. That was when Ott took his first steps, and he made the long walk across Deer Creek, avoiding the fissure.
Upon entering the trees that line Deer Creek, Ott and Stephens crossed paths. Here they fished together and swapped stories.
This outing failed, however, to equal Stephens' initial outing on Jan. 3. Yet, they managed to squeeze several dozen nice-sized crappie and white bass through the 29 holes they drilled, and one of Stephens' crappie surpassed the coveted two-pound mark.
Upon catching that two-pound titan, Stephens said he wished the ice would remain until the ides of March.