OAKWOOD, Ill. - Believe it or not, some central Illinoisans have loved spending hours outdoors in this woeful winter weather of ours.
While the bone-chilling cold has meant a lot more school snow days than usual, it's also meant a lot more prime ice fishing days.
"We haven't had any bad ice," said John Hott, superintendent of Kickapoo State Park, where the ice fishing is always popular but this winter has become an almost daily activity.
Hott has been on frozen waters more this winter than any other in his 15 years of ice fishing. Ponds and lakes throughout East Central Illinois have been frozen for months, which isn't normally the case. Most winters, he said, it's hit or miss, with intermittent periods of good ice and bad ice - and only the diehards braving it.
"When you have a year like this, you have lots of days to fish, and it's a lot more popular," he said from a private pond near Oakland, which he shared with six others Wednesday. "Seems like we have people on the ice almost every day."
Even on days like Tuesday, when the mercury stayed in the teens, Kenny Obanion and Jeremy Andrews were quite comfortable in their ice fishing tent in the middle of snow-covered Lake Mingo, at Kennekuk County Park in Vermilion County.
They sat on five-gallon plastic buckets in front of two ice holes, each with a Coleman lantern keeping them warm inside their four-walled fishing tent - just as the Danville duo has done almost every day they've had off from work this winter.
Obanion bought the ice fishing tent at rummage sale several years ago, and the first two years he had it, there wasn't enough ice to try it out. But he's making up for it lately.
Obanion and Andrews had the lake to themselves Tuesday, but it's been much busier on the weekends. The evidence was in the thousands of foot tracks in the snow leading from the parking lot to the frozen lake, then eventually splintering off in all directions.
Everett Walters, owner of Uncle Boonie's Bait Shop, said this time of year is usually pretty slow for his Homer business. But not this winter. He's had "a bookoo number of people coming after bait" - so many that Walters said he has had difficulty keeping his shelves stocked.
"My suppliers that raise the bait didn't get prepared for this. They didn't know we were going to have all this ice," said Walters, who finally tracked down a place in Michigan that shipped him some.
Walters said the bait of choice is small grub - the larvae of a bee moth that gets into bee hives. Butterworms, another kind of larvae, are also popular. He's had requests from the crappie fishermen for minnows, too, but Walters has had a tough time keeping his minnow tanks from freezing.
While bait is the biggest request, people have also come to Uncle Boonie's looking for augers, auger blades, poles, buckets and dippers to scoop the ice out of the hole.
"Normally this time of year, it's completely nil," he said.
Walters said local outdoorsmen would like to go ice fishing, but it's not a huge sport around there because the lakes don't ice over all winter.
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