Ice fishing in Montana and discovering the bait was more than wormy

By Roy Hawkins


Fishing was the last thing on my mind when I stepped out my front door in Columbus at 2 a.m. one cold February morning to find the ground covered with two inches of snow. I was on my way to First Baptist Church, Deer Lodge, Montana to teach a Winter Bible Study. At Sturgis, Mississippi, I joined two friends who were also to teach Bible Studies in Montana. As we struggled over treacherous highways to reach the airport in Memphis, where we were to board our flight to Billings, my thoughts were only of doing the very best job I could with my teaching assignment. However, as sometimes happens when I’m going about my calling to be a Fisher of Men, the Heavenly Father, on this trip arranged for me to do another kind of fishing as well.

The long trip out was perhaps unusual, in that every inch of the ground between my door step at home, and my ultimate destination, a working ranch outside Deer Lodge, was covered with snow. Shortly after arriving in Billings, I boarded my connecting flight to Helena, Montana. There, Sam and Linda Chism, members of the Deer Lodge Church, were waiting to drive me to their home. I was to stay with them on the ranch already mentioned during my time in Montana. I met Sam and Linda, as planned, and at end of a fifty mile drive that night, fell into bed exhausted. Early the next morning, I was introduced to Gary Pearson, pastor at First Baptist Church, and some of the other members. I immediately felt at home with them, and soon settled into my work.

A few days later, my host suggested we go ice fishing since we had no activities at the church during the day. I. of course was easily persuaded, and Sam quickly recruited his friend, Chaplain Rosette, an Assembly of God minister, at Montana State prison, and one of the finest people I ever met, to accompany us on the trip. After loading the fishing gear into Sam’s vehicle, we drove to Georgetown Lake, only a few miles from Deer Lodge. As it turned out the most distinguishing feature of the lake was that there was no sign of a lake. My companions, however, assured me it was there, buried under the snow and a layer of ice that later measured between two and one half and three feet thick.

Carrying our gear, we walked out to a spot Sam and Chaplain Rosette said was a hundred fifty yards or so from the lake shore. We then took turns with an auger cutting a hole through the ice until it popped through. Sure enough when we withdrew the auger, water filled the hole, proving there was indeed a lake beneath us. After cutting a couple of more holes in the ice, Sam and the chaplain rigged our short ice fishing rods. These were equipped with a little reel that actually was nothing more than a line holder. After stringing the line through the guides, my friends attached a bobber and then at the end of the line tied a small attractor device called a Swedish Pimple. The little piece of painted metal looked something like a spoon used in spin fishing, except it was much more elongated in shape, and had no hooks. To complete the rig, the Montanans attached a twelve inch leader to a tiny ring in the bottom of the Swedish Pimple, and at its end, tied a number eight hook.

Sam then brought out one of those little round covered cup like containers used by bait shops here in the south to package their worms. Now, continue reading, only if you have a strong stomach, because the container did NOT hold worms. Instead when Sam removed the top, I discovered it was filled with a mass of wiggling maggots. My face must have betrayed my shock, because my companions assured me maggots could be bought for ice fishing at any bait shop in Montana, and they weren’t playing a practical joke on the preacher from Mississippi. Nevertheless, that was one time I would gladly have let someone else bait my hook. However, since neither of my friends offered to do so, I steeled myself to the distasteful task, slid a maggot on my hook, and dropped it through the hole in the ice.

The fishing was slow! They just weren’t biting, so we did what three preachers (Sam Chism was also an ordained minister) are bound to do. We talked about theology and the Bible while we waited for the fish to cooperate. Being evangelical Christians, we agreed that a person can go to Heaven only by expressing true sorrow to God for his sins and trusting Christ as his Savior. Every once in a while, as we talked and fished, a loud crack rent the air as the temperature rose to the high 20’s, causing the ice to expand. The first it happened I, thinking the ice was the verge of collapse, dug my heels into the snow in preparation for executing a speedy withdrawal in the general direction of the nearest point on shore. Thank goodness, the ice remained intact!

Also, thankfully, as it turned out, we didn’t leave the lake empty handed, for after an hour or so of fishing, my bobber twitched ever so slightly, and my companions yelled for me to set the hook. I did so and brought out a fish about 10 inches long. Chaplain Rosette promptly dubbed it a Silver Salmon. I suspect the fish was actually a Rainbow trout that had lost its coloration as a result of the thick ice shielding it from sunlight.

Whatever they were, we caught a total of four fish before calling it a day, and the following morning at breakfast, they proved to be excellent table fare. More importantly, the Heavenly Father had placed his stamp of approval on fishers of men resting from their work for a little while to be fishers of fish.