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Panhandle Passages with Justin Haag – Hail to the Mighty Spud Bar

Spud Bar
A pinch-point crowbar serves well as my spud bar.

I have a lot of ice fishing gear. I’ll admit it, I’m a junkie. Too many hours have been spent perusing catalogs and the Internet for the latest and greatest tools to get fish from one side of the ice to the other. Whether my purchases have resulted in more success can be debated.

If I had to name the most valuable piece of equipment in my arsenal, it wouldn’t be the portable shanty, gas drill or electronic fishfinder that I bought from prominent sporting goods retailers – although they do rank high. Rather, it’s a four-foot piece of steel that was bought at a nearby farm and ranch supplier and is entirely useless when it comes to actually catching fish. Yes, I have to be pretty familiar with the ice conditions on any given body of water before I’ll venture onto it without my spud bar. So far I’ve yet to take a swim in icy waters and I give the spud bar a lot of credit for keeping me dry.

My two children know the process well. They stand along the bank as dad ventures onto the ice a few steps at a time. Each few steps end with three or four whacks at the ice with the spud bar. Those few strikes at the ice give me assurance that it is plenty strong to hold me for a few more steps, and, most importantly, to hold them. Once I give the signal, it’s time for them to join me aboard the ice and begin the panfish pursuit.

As I hear reports of people falling through the ice at the arrival and departure of winter, I wonder if the incidents could have been prevented by the plain and simple spud bar.

Sporting goods manufacturers now market spud bars for ice fishing. While I’m glad to see such a valuable safety tool near tip-ups and jigging rods, I don’t think it’s a tool that requires a fancy brand name to do the job. A search of the Internet results in many spud bars that have been created from junk metal and limited welding skills. Mine is actually marketed as a pinch-point crowbar. Some might say it’s a little heavy for the job, but when it comes to the safety of my children, I’d rather err on the side of too much heft instead of not enough.

One note: An important feature of a spud bar is a rope to keep it securely attached to the wrist, and the presence of mind to use it. On a related note, if you’re looking for a spud bar just like mine, you might be able to find one somewhere at the bottom of the Chadron City Reservoirs. Oops.

I’m hearing reports of deteriorating ice conditions in parts of the state as temperatures of late have been unseasonably warm. I had the pleasure of writing my first news release for the Game and Parks Commission this week – unfortunately, the subject was none too desirable. A pair of all-terrain vehicles took a bath below the ice at Cottonwood-Steverson Lake in Cherry County. ATV use on that body of water and nearby Home Valley Lake has since been prohibited.

I’m hoping to get on the ice several more times before season’s end. I tested the ice at a pond near Chadron this morning. It appears to be holding well and I’m itching to get out on it. When I do, you can bet I’ll be doing it behind my trusty spud bar.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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