THERE WAS A time when I would spend half my winter sitting on ice 24 inches thick with a hole chopped in it, waiting for a fish somewhere down in the deep to come along and attack whatever it was I was dangling on the end of a line.

In my early days of ice fishing, my tip-ups consisted of a piece of brush, the butt of which would be anchored in snow, a line draped across the tip of the brush about 3 feet above the hole and a bright-colored piece of yarn or cloth tied tightly around the line and attached lightly to the brush so the bait at the end of the line would dangle a foot or so above the lake bottom.

Pretty antiquated way of fishing, eh? Maybe so, but it worked every bit as well as $50 tip-ups commonly used today. As a college student, and later a newlywed, I couldn’t afford tip-ups, which by that time probably ran about $10 or so. I still used my brush lines, and I caught as many pike and walleye as any of my friends did.

As a good father, I took one or both children with me ice fishing quite often. I wanted to spend bonding time with them or at least that is what I would tell my lovely wife. To tell the truth, like many guys, I figured two children equaled six more lines in the water, making it three times more likely we would bring a fish home now and then.

In the very beginning, when my son was maybe 3 and his sister 6, we spent most of our outings trying to catch perch and bluegills. I learned early that they would be more willing to stay on the ice until dark if I had a rip-roaring campfire going on the ice, if there was an ample supply of potato chips, candy bars and hot chocolate on hand, and if they were actually catching fish on a regular basis.

One of our favorite spots to fish was a small lake, the land around which was entirely in private hands. As good fortune would have it, my dad served as caretaker for that property.

When my children were of that tender age, they would fish. I would handle the thermos of hot chocolate and take fish off the hook. I rarely got to touch a jig rod myself.

The way it worked, when one of them saw a bobber go down, they would set the hook and instead of bringing the fish up hand over hand, they simply walked away from the hole. When the bluegill popped up to the surface, it was my job to unhook the fish, toss it on the ice if it was a keeper and attach a new waxie on the hook.

As they got a few years older, they were happy to tend tip-ups, my son especially. He would roam the field of tip-ups, chipping any forming skim of ice out of the hole, often stopping to pull up a minnow to make sure that it was still attached to the hook and still alive.

By that stage of her life, circa 10 or 12 years old, my daughter was much more content to sit by the fire, drink hot chocolate, and tell me about her bestie girlfriends and the cute boy or boys they were all chasing. Soon after that, she was gone from my ice fishing gang completely, cute boys becoming much more important in her life.

As he entered adulthood, it became a rare occurrence when even my son got out on the ice with me. In the Army for three years after high school, away at the University of Minnesota after that, married and working in the Twin Cities after that, and then, back in the Army for the past 12 years, he doesn’t often get a chance to fish with me.

That’s probably a good thing, because — and I hate to admit this — he has become a much more dedicated, serious fisherman, has all the latest equipment people keep throwing out on the market, and actually is a more skilled fisherman than I am.

Anyway, I got to thinking about my many years spent on the ice each winter the other night as I worked on putting together details of the Sayner-Star Lake Lions Club Plum Lake ice fishing tournament to be held Feb. 13.

I thought of the good humor my children and the children belonging to my fishing buddies brought me, of a 34-inch pike I caught to win the Presque Isle ice fishing tournament one year many moons ago, and of watching first-grade teacher, Mrs. Tip-Up, otherwise known as Mrs. Reed, racing for every flag one day whether it was flying above one of her tip-ups or not.

Now, I am almost nonexistent as an ice fisherman. The last time I actually put a line in the water was two years ago, when I caught a mess of nice bluegills on a small, private lake outside Minocqua where my cousin has sole permission to fish.

Now, I’m thinking I had better get back in the saddle. Lately, I have been getting quite a few baleful looks from my lovely wife who apparently likes me better out of the house than in.

I get that idea from the two shiny new Beaver Dam tip-ups she got me for Christmas. She did, however, forget to provide line for me, so I am still buying time until I am forced to sit my butt on an upturned 5-gallon bucket again, to stare into dark water slowly icing up within an 8-inch round hole under which there may or may not be a fish at the bottom of the lake wanting to eat the bait dangling in front of it.

Think I’m ready to get at it? You betcha, eh?