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Celebrating Winter Fishing Season

At a time when schools, churches and other organizations throughout northern Missouri were canceling events because of winter weather, Tory Mason knew the clinic he had organized was in good shape.

Temperatures in the teens? Wind chills around zero? Snow and ice? No problem.

When you’re holding an ice fishing clinic, that’s ideal weather.

“No problem with safe ice today,” Mason said as he stood on the frozen surface of Mozingo Lake. “We’ve been drilling through 16 inches of ice today.

“It’s been cold up here, and this lake has been frozen over for a couple months now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go fishing.”

Mason, a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, learned that long ago. He grew up in northern Illinois and went to college in Wisconsin. There, lakes freeze up early and don’t shed that frozen layer until late.

If you want to fish, you either drill a hole in the ice, or you stay home and play fishing video games.

“We would build a shack right on the ice,” Mason said. “We would catch walleyes, crappies and northern pike, and we would have a great time.

“It’s addictive.”

Mason and co-workers with the Department of Conservation were trying to help others get addicted.

In an ordinary year, ice might be thin or not even present at this time of the year. But that wasn’t a problem this day.

After an unusually harsh winter, Mozingo was perfect for ice fishing.

Mason and his crew showed up early and drilled holes not far from the boat ramp. Then they watched as the people flowed in.

Before long, there were more than 100 people on the ice, sitting on lawn chairs or buckets and using short fishing rods that the Department of Conservation provided.

The transducers from sonar flasher units were dangling in the icy water, the orange bars on the screen indicating where there was brush. Mason leaned over one unit, helping 5-year-old Casey Berry of nearby Maryville, Mo., tend to his line.

When Mason saw one of those bars suddenly move, he said, “Get ready. You’re going to get a bite.”

Sure enough, there was a tap at the end of the line and Casey began reeling. His face lit up when he pulled a bluegill out of the hole and plopped it on the ice.

With that, Mason moved to help others, many of whom were trying ice fishing for the first time.

He and others had containers of wax worms, and they hooked them onto the 1/64-ounce jigs that were tied to the end of the light line.

“When you’re ice fishing, the smaller the bait, the better,” Mason said. “They’re feeding a lot on bug larvae in the winter.

“Blood worms, plankton, tiny things. That’s what they want.”

Though a fish’s metabolism slows in cold weather, they will bite . if the bait is placed correctly.

“They aren’t going to chase anything,” Mason said. “But they’ll bite if it’s in front of them.

“That’s why we drilled holes over the brush we have put in here the last couple of years.”

Most of the fish that were reeled in caught were crappies and bluegills. But bigger fish can be caught.

Ask Dave Carlisle, a conservation agent for the Department of Conservation.

The week before the clinic, he was ice fishing on Mozingo near a spot where a branch jutted out of the ice.

He felt something tap the jigging spoon he was using, then felt the heavy weight of a big fish. He fought the giant for a while, thinking he had a walleye or a catfish. But when he got his catch to the hole, he found that it was a big bass.

“That’s the biggest bass I’ve ever caught,” he said. “We estimated that it weighed 7 to 8 pounds.

“To catch it through the ice … well, you just never know.”