If you knew them, you would have expected nothing less. In fact, you might have expected any ice fishing house built by my dad and brother to be the most thoughtfully engineered and well-built shelter possible for the times. And you would have been spot-on. When water was too soft to drill, our Mille Lacs Lake ice house sat behind the old machine shed on the farm, near the burn barrel and the oak stump we used as a chopping block for butchering spring chickens.

The ice house took its summer sun on a little patch of land to the right of the barnyard, with the wooden post and rail fence built with a similar constitution to corral the beef cattle. Occasionally, a skunk or woodchuck would take up residence beneath one of the house’s four trap doors. Such a scenario was always met by my father with a stringer full of cuss words spit through clenched front teeth, followed by a quick trip to the gun cabinet for the Belgian-made 1959 Browning .22-SA long rifle.

Ah, winters on Mille Lacs were grand on the top bunk of that ice house. Light smelled like a Coleman lantern, and heat wafted with the fragrance of wood chopped a season earlier. From my perch above, I could peer over the head of the bunk and see straight down into my ice hole; the bobber rising and falling with the undulation of the water.

I’d sometimes jump down and skim what started to glaze and stick to my line. The slushy icelets formed as chips and shards like those in a perfectly shaken martini. Cold, quiet nights were interrupted by cracking ice; deep, whale-like hypnotic moans and groans rumbling eerily beneath us as the sound torpedoed through water. And usually, the fish were plentiful; northern pike, walleyes and perch.

That was Then, This is Now

In a couple weeks, I’ll be joining the 2018 Women’s Ice Angler Project as they take to the 1,000-plus frozen lakes of Otter Tail County, not far from the ice fishing adventures of my youth. The goal of the Women Ice Angler Project founded and led by professional angler, Barb Carey (below), and an entourage of professional women anglers, is to encourage women to try ice fishing, as well as mentor those who already enjoy it and want to improve their skills.

Barb Carey with a huge hard-water crappie. Image courtesy of the Women Ice Angler Project.

An additional plus of the Women Ice Angler Project has been the momentum it is gathering as it moves the industry forward, capturing lifestyle imagery and stories of independent, self-reliant women ice anglers. Savvy outdoor brands, and media outlets seeking to connect with the burgeoning numbers of women in the outdoors, and the significant buying power they wield, have been taking notice; offering sponsorships in kind and in cash. “We are thrilled that brands see the value in supporting the Project and women outdoor enthusiasts. We hope that continues to grow,” Barb Carey said.

Carey added, “We don’t underestimate the skill level of women ice anglers. Sure, we’re happy to introduce new participants, but there are many women who want to grow their skill set, and our powerful group of gals can help them do just that.”

While the style of fishing will be different than the romanticized “one-stop-and-drop” method of my youth, I suspect the stories I’ll have to share, and the connections I’ll make with these capable outdoorswomen, will live as long and as large.

Here’s a dish for fish dumplings in belly warming broth — perfect for the dinner table, or on the ice. Irma Rombauer, author of “Joy of Cooking,” said this “Once encountered never forgotten is the texture of a well-made ‘quenelle’ (fish dumpling).”

I suspect I’ll say the same after my upcoming adventure; once encountered, never forgotten.

Ingredients for fish dumplings.

Fish Dumplings Ingredients

1 lb. pike, or other firm white fish, deboned

2 slices soft white potato bread (Cottage Bread works great!)

3/4 C whole milk or half-and-half

1 egg

Dill, or fresh fennel fronds

1/2 T minced shallot

Salt & pepper

2 quarts homemade stock of any kind.

Method

  1. Remove bones from fish, then place into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until fish is the consistency of a fine grind.
  2. Remove crust from bread and place in small bowl. Add egg, shallots, and dill or fennel fronds.
  3. With the back of a fork, blend milk slowly into the mixture. Depending on the bread, you may not need all the milk. You are looking for wet and mushy, but not too thin.
  4. Add the processed pike, and some salt and pepper. Once stirred in the consistency is like moist mashed potatoes. Add a bit more milk if needed.
  5. Chill for 30-60 minutes.
  6. Remove from the refrigerator and form quenelles using two spoons. This is an easy technique of alternately scooping toward you from one spoon to another with a controlled ‘flick’ to form little football-shaped dumplings.
  7. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and then drop in the quenelles. At first, they will sink to the bottom, and then will rise to float when done.
  8. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into bowls of hot broth.
  9. Serve with crusty bread, or crostini for sopping.

Photos below demonstrate steps described above.

Add milk a bit at a time to make a wet mushy mixture.
Use the back of a fork to blend.
Make a quenelle by scooping the bread and pike mixture onto a spoon.
Scoop toward you with a flick, alternating spoons three or four times to form a little football.
Add dumpling to salted boiling water. Scoop out with a slotted spoon in a minute or two, after they rise to the top.
Quenelles in some thawed and heated thanksgiving turkey stock.
Split whole crabs to make a rich seafood stock.
Making a stock with Louisiana blue crab, with fennel bulb, garlic, parsley, onion, lemon, carrot, bay leaves, peppercorns, celery, tomato paste, thyme and red chili flakes.
Crab stock simmering.
Strain the rich stock, pour into bowls and float in the poached quenelles.

About the Author: Raised a Minnesota farm-girl in a hunting family, Krissie Mason (below) is an outdoorswoman, food enthusiast, and has been reconnecting with her culinary country roots and family hunting traditions of late. She is the brains and brawn behind Scratch + Holler media, and a regular contributor to several outdoor websites. Krissie fully supports a field-to-fork wild food chain, and especially enjoys expanding pantries and stretching wild game palates with her ambitious and delicious wild game recipes. Be sure to visit Krissie’s website to check out her blog and much more.

Images by Krissie Mason

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