Frank Briggs has been ice fishing since 1967.
“Being old and retired, you have to have someplace to go to get out of the house,” he jokes.
Briggs said he enjoys fishing the lake at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. “They have some of the best crappie fishing around.”
He'll be on the lake come January, as always. Ice fishing will begin at DeSoto on Sunday and run through the end of February.
The refuge is about 25 miles north of Council Bluffs on U.S. 30, between Missouri Valley, Iowa, and Blair, Neb.
Bluegill, crappie, walleye and white bass “are the big four that will be caught in the wintertime” in DeSoto Lake, according to DeSoto official Rod Hansen.
Until the refuge opens, Briggs said, he's been getting his crappie fix at a spot north of his Mondamin home.
“I don't tell anybody,” he said.
When reached by phone, he was in the middle of filleting fish he'd caught that morning with Darien Beatty, a 16-year-old West Harrison High School junior.
Darien was a first-timer.
“Somebody's who's never been, they get a kick out of catching so many fish,” he said. “We use sonar to monitor the fish .... You just drop your line and catch one after another. Darien caught a lot of fish today.”
Added Darien: “It was awesome.”
Officials at DeSoto encourage anglers to test the ice before proceeding onto the lake.
The safest, hardest ice for fishing is blue ice, according to Hansen. That is ice formed when a body of water freezes without snow cover.
“It's best if ice forms without snow on top. Then when snow does come, it will insulate the ice,” Hansen said.
If the ice is more of a white color, it could have formed under melting snow, he said, “and that's not as safe.”
As a rule, Hansen said, anglers need four inches of blue ice and six inches of white ice to safely fish an area. This season, DeSoto Lake froze before snow hit the area and has about six inches of blue ice.
Hansen said to be wary of things sticking up from the lake. Brush piles and trees “will absorb heat, meaning the area right around will be weaker.”
The daily bag limit of crappie and bluegill in combination has been reduced to 15 — down from 30 — because of a change in Nebraska fishing regulations.
Because the lake lies in Nebraska and Iowa, Hansen said, the refuge abides by the stricter laws of the two states.
The refuge is open a half-hour before sunrise until a half-hour after sunset. Ice fishing will be closed on Jan. 8 and 9 while a refugewide deer hunt is held.
An entrance fee permit is required. Daily fee permits are available at each refuge entrance, or an annual permit is available at the visitor center. A federal duck stamp also serves as a fee permit.