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Ice People

December 17, 2010 | by Diane Tipton

Listening to Jan Mack and Lynn Bacon of Bozeman describe ice fishing would make anyone with an ounce of adventure wish for a few magical moments on the ice of their own.


Jan Mack on Canyon Ferry Reservoir (Photos courtesy of Lynn Bacon)

The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' website at has information on upcoming ice fishing derbies, water bodies, and fishing regulations. But to find your way in this fishing sub-culture you need to visit with some long-time ice anglers.

Mack is retired, after 30 years with the Montana Department of Natural Resources. Bacon is a biologist and wetland scientist with PBS&J, an engineering firm in Bozeman.

"Jan is the real deal, he started out as an ice fisherkid in Michigan, and loves the sport," Bacon said. "He does not use sonar, instead he sets a stuffed doll of an Inuit person on the ice for good luck. Some ice people seem to be tuned in to good luck charms the same way baseball players are."

"My Inuit doll is from the Salvation Army, but I made a spear for him to hold while he looks down the hole," Mack said. "When the fishing is seriously slow, I bring out the big guns. I place my wind-up penguin on the ice and let it chatter around the hole."

"Santa gave me a gas-powered auger a few years ago, otherwise, it's all old school," he said.

Some of Mack's fondest memories are of catching perch at Canyon Ferry Reservoir in the 1980s.


Jan showing Osa & Quechee their catch (Photos courtesy of Lynn Bacon)

"Although I could use up to six rods, I could only keep up with two, and I'd go home with a five-gallon bucket of perch, he said. "That was a time when ling were plentiful, too. For trout, we'd get out there at 'Oh-dark-thirty' to unload, drill our holes, and have our rods up by first light. Folks ask when trout bite the best—it's at first light," he said.

Mack likes to fish until noon and then, if the ice is right, he ice skates around the reservoir to visit other anglers and hear their stories.

"Ice anglers construct interesting things to help with their fishing--like huts, trailers, hand-made pole savers and reels with alarms on them that go off when they have a fish on the line—and they like to talk," Mack said.

Mack said one of the attractions of ice fishing on a big reservoir is how friendly the ice anglers are. For those who prefer solitude, he recommends one of Montana's smaller reservoirs, for example, around White Sulphur Springs.

"When you're out on the ice, it is a good time to think. It can be a Zen situation. You clear your mind and just watch your bobber and relax," he said.


Ling on the ice
(Photos courtesy of Lynn Bacon)

Or not.

"One February we camped out to fish for ling. We had our holes drilled and lines all baited when suddenly here comes a guy out on the ice yelling "Hey, you're in my spot!" Mack said.

They soon befriended him and were rewarded by his stories—like the one about losing his pickup truck through the ice, along with all his fishing gear.

"We called him "Harlan Pepper" after the hound-owning-nut-reciting (as in Wal-nut, Pine-nut, Macadamia-nut, etc.) character in the movie "Best of Show," Bacon said. "He told us about his amazing "ling"-guini dish, and though I don't recall his exact recipe, I devised a version in honor of our time on the ice with this character. – Thanks, Harlan!"


  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
  • 1 small sweet red pepper, chopped small
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-2 “shakes” red pepper flakes
  • ground pepper, to taste, fresh ground if possible

On lowest heat, melt butter, add garlic, onion, sweet pepper, herbs, black and red pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft (not browned).

¼ cup white flour
Add flour to butter, vegetables and herb mixture and stir on lowest heat until vegetables are evenly covered with a butter-flour paste.

2 cups milk, low-fat
Add milk to flour-butter-vegetable mix, and stirring constantly, turn heat up to low medium, until milk thickens to a heavy cream consistently.

¼ cup white wine or dry vermouth (vermouth is cheaper and just as tasty)
Add wine or vermouth to milk mixture and stir constantly until mixture thickens to a heavy cream consistency; this is now your "white sauce."

1 cup grated romano, or parmigiano reggiano, or packaged grated parmesan cheese (may also mix in extra sharp white cheddar such as Cabott Cheese)
Add cheese to thickened white sauce, stirring constantly, on low-medium heat, until cheese is smoothly integrated and desired thickness is attained.

1-2 pounds ling
Cut ling fillets into 1-inch pieces, add to white sauce and gently cook on low until ling is cooked through.

Salt to taste (cheese tends to have a high salt concentration, so wait until all is prepared until you salt to taste)

Pour "ling-guini" white sauce over cooked linguini pasta, or other preferred pasta.