Two weeks ago my son, who is slightly more than half my age, and I went ice-fishing together for about the 300th time.  Yep, we caught another nice bunch of bluegills and bass on a nearby farm pond.

The farm ponds on which we have permission to fish are almost always reliable producers.  I fillet and vacuum-seal packages of our bounty and share them with pond owners who like eating fish. 

There are occasions when Jon and I get skunked on our favorite farm ponds as well as on famous walleye, crappie and perch lakes that are touted in fishing magazines.  Like all good fishers, we attribute fishless outings to the weather, the moon phase, or the fishes’ persnickety appetite and never to our fishing prowess. 

It isn’t just the fish that make our time together fun and worthwhile.  Being outdoors on a cold sunny day is invigorating. 

It’s okay if we don’t catch fish because we have a good time talking, laughing, sharing viewpoints and engaging in a few activities that fishermen exhibit only when women aren’t around.

If girls and ladies are around, that’s great; there is an unspoken rule that the guys are supposed to be on their “good behavior.”  It is becoming more common to see dads and daughters and pairs of men and women on the frozen lakes and ponds.

Jon and I are both just glad we can ice-fish together.

It’s not as easy for me to go ice-fishing as it was a few years ago.  Jon has to attach ice crampons to my insulated boots so I won’t slip on slick ice. 

My body won’t bend well enough in the right places for me to secure the crampons he gave me for Christmas.  He never complains about this or any ice-fishing chore.

He pulls the ice hut onto the frozen body of water when the weather is cold or windy enough that we need a shelter and he drills all the holes with his motorized ice auger.  Jon has the propane heater, the electronic fish finders, the rods and fishing jigs, the hand-held ice spikes if the ice breaks, and the bait.

Jon might even furnish the liquid nourishment, but I supply the bucket for the fish and a couple cigars.  Although Jon doesn’t smoke them, he says it wouldn’t be ice-fishing without my aromatic cigars.

Two weeks earlier the two of us accompanied four other Iowa guys for a three-day outing in northeastern South Dakota.  The fishing report: we fished from 6 am to around 8 pm every day. 

We enjoyed the long days, our motel beds at night, and fraternizing in the small town cafes with the locals who shared fishing and farming information while we ate breakfast or supper together.  We paid attention when a local patron said someone’s truck fell through the ice two days earlier on a lake we planned to fish. 

Jon cautiously drove his one-ton, crew-cab diesel truck onto the ice; we felt reassured when we saw other rigs just as heavy as Jon’s vehicle with ample gear and when we found the ice to be 22 inches thick.   Nevertheless, we unhooked our seat belts and kept the windows open for quick escapes in case “the unwanted event” occurred while we motored on and off the lake.  

The incessant good-natured teasing was awfully entertaining.  We weren’t jerks though. 

You’ve probably heard the definition of a bad fisherman: a jerk on one end of a fishing line waiting for a jerk on the other end. 

We congratulated anyone who caught a fish.  We compared good books we had read recently, what is happening in farming, politics and personal philosophies without anyone getting offended. 

We became friends and possible resources for each other in the future.  I surmised how beneficial it would be if all farmers had such enjoyable opportunities to share diverse views and ideas.

Divergent thinking is something farmers don’t always get to explore.  We tend to seek mostly the information that affirms our views. 

Alternative thinking is beneficial because it shakes us out of our comfort zones and usual ways of looking at things.  Having more information and options for the problems that all of us face is more likely to lead to optimal solutions. 

And what better time and way to introduce divergent thinking than when recreating.  It’s hard to get upset or to dwell on the negatives when we are having fun. 

Whether it’s golfing, hunting, traveling together, attending fairs or whatever is deemed a vacation, the combination of recreation and acquiring new information is healthy for our bodies and minds.

But it’s hard to beat ice-fishing for the full treatment.  Yes, we caught enough perch every day we were in South Dakota so that we could divide them among us for a meal or two by everyone’s family; and the fun together–that was indivisible.

Michael Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa clinical psychologist who lives on the farm he shares with his wife.  Share your thoughts with Dr. Rosmann at: