THERE MAY NOT BE any joy in Mudville, but all over north Wisconsin there is joy in the hearts of all ice fishermen.

Thanks to winter deciding to settle in early in earnest, a fair number of area lakes already have ice thick enough to venture out on quite safely. Not to say a person should just go tramping out on any given lake without spudding their way, but already, fishermen have been out on lakes that are generally fairly shallow and not too large.

I am not one of that group. There was a time, back when I was young and dumb, that 2 inches of ice seemed like plenty for ice fishing. I never took a cold bath, but there were times I probably should have.

The earliest I can ever remember hitting the ice was one year back when I was in my 20s, about a century or so ago. I was among a group of guys who figured if Plum Lake was making a skim of ice, then Little John Lake should have plenty.

Depending on how you define plenty, Little John had it. That year, we hit the lake for the first time Nov. 7. We picked Little John because it is relatively shallow and on the medium/small side.

It had about 3 solid inches of ice, and all of us were quite optimistic when we first cut holes and dropped lines through the ice. Fed by certain beverages, our optimism lasted until the beer ran out a few hours later. Not one fish was pulled through the ice that day, but we had a good time and no one got wet.

A more recent year, three of us decided 67-acre Starrett Lake would be a safe bet for a late-November outing. We felt pretty confident when we saw a previous track heading out to the opposite side of the lake we were headed for. Though we were confident of the ice thickness, we did have the good sense to spud our way along. Most of the time we had 4 inches, but at one point, for whatever reason, the ice dropped to a two-thunk thickness.

Amazing how fast three guys can scatter in opposite directions when that happens. Long story short, we fished a spot where there was a good 4 inches of ice and despite great optimism at the start, we ended the day with nary a flag. Do you perhaps spot a trend here?

The most foolish early ice escapade I was part of occurred the opening day of deer season when I was in my late 30s. My middle brother hunted by himself that day in the woods off Frank Lake. He had scouted and set up a stand well before the season opened, but abandoned it shortly after daybreak when some other yahoos crowded in on him and cut off the runways he was watching.

Embarking on what may not have been the smartest move of his life, he decided to take the short way walking across the lake instead of the long way around the shore to get to another good spot.

He made it without incident, still hunted his way along a ridge bordering a long valley, then cut through the woods to get around to the back side of an even longer swamp, winding up near Bear Springs. There, just for the heck of it, he shot a giant 10-point buck sometime in the afternoon.

All he had to do then was set off on what was at least a 3-mile drag, working his way through a foot of freshly fallen snow. It was near dark when he reached the far shore of Frank Lake. Since he had walked across the lake in the morning he figured, what the heck, why not drag his buck that way.

About a quarter of the way across he finally ran out of steam and decided to leave the buck and go back to my dad’s house to recruit help. The help was me, my oldest brother and a teen-aged nephew. When we left the house my dad, probably the only one smart enough to think of it, insisted we take a spud to check the ice.

 Nah. We didn’t need no stinking spud. We figured if Mike walked across the lake twice it had to be safe. We did condescend to at least take along a 50-foot safety rope. At the lake we went merrily tromping across the ice. Reaching the buck, which weighed about 180 pounds, my nephew grabbed my brother’s drag rope attached to a chunk of oak branch while I strapped into my fancy store-bought drag harness. My two brothers were an enormous help, urging us homeward with gleeful shouts of “Giddy-up you hosses; faster, you can go faster.” What I replied may have been judged unfit for public consumption.

At any rate, about halfway across the lake the ice all of a sudden went a dynamite loud “Kapow.” My nephew, athlete that he was, dropped his rope and took off running like a rabbit. Thinking I might be going down with the ship, I struggled out of my harness and hightailed it too.

After deciding that we weren’t going to go swimming, we kept on with one guy dragging and the other three spread out, all well away from each other. All my dad did when we got home and told our story was to assert that sometimes it takes boys a long time to get smart.

To this day, none of us knows just how thick that ice was. I don’t want to know.

I will say one thing for sure. No longer do I have any urge to be the first guy on the lake with jig rods and tip-ups. Until there is at least 4 inches of good, solid ice, I am content to go to the fish market if I’m hungry for fish.

But judging by the numbers of people who have told me they have been out, there is plenty of ice and the fish are biting red hot. 

I might believe that first part, but as for that first ice stuff being the ticket to red hot fishing, refer back to the first two recollections of this missive. ’Nuff said.