By Doug Leier

Ice fishing can be as expensive as you want to make it. In reality its probaly the cheapest outdoor sport to get into

The "Dog Days" of summer reference the hot, backside, waiting-for-autumn kind feeling we slip into about the middle of August. Doesn't seem so bad right about now, does it?

I associate August attitudes with under-appreciating the beauty of living in the Midwest.

We have about three months of every season, providing a distinct opportunity for anticipating, experiencing and repeating the pleasure of all the unique possibilities.

Once the beginning of February is on the radar, I think we slip into similar pattern, wishing winter would hurry up and lose its grip, even in the mildest of winters. For some reason we long for the promise of spring, and the thawing of snow in our lawns and no more ice on the driveway.

While some look at winter as the longest of seasons, I've always tried to view each season as too short. In my mind, winter doesn't begin until after Christmas. Since I grew up in Valley City, I associated the end of winter with the North Dakota Winter Show, which is held each year in early March. So winter was a mere nine or 10 weeks long.

Some will argue that winter begins in November and can last until May, but I'm not buying it. The power of suggestion long ago convinced me otherwise.

But until February is washed out, you can combat the dog days of winter with mid-winter - in my eyes, late winter - ice fishing.

First and foremost, it's never too late to give ice fishing a try, even if you lack some of the equipment. Don't get hung up thinking you need to spend thousands of dollars to get started. You don't even need a shed or shack.

One of these days the mercury will creep past 20 above and you'll have a couple of options. Either dress to withstand winter weather for a few hours, or once you get set up, warm yourself periodically in the car. Bright sun bouncing off the snow and ice has a warming tendency, and a fish on the end of the hook creates an adrenaline rush that makes your body feel like you've been sitting in a boat on a 95-degree August afternoon.

Well, okay, maybe not quite that much.

But the adrenaline of a hot fishing bite can warm you up, or at least divert your attention from the cold for awhile.

If you have a neighbor, coworker or friend equipped for ice fishing, I'd be surprised if after expressing a bit of interest they wouldn't help get you started. Do a little checking to find a hot, late winter bite and set the plans in motion.

No need to assume a three-hour trip one way. Check with local anglers or the Game and Fish website for a local winter fishery and give it a try. One key is to seek out areas with activity. In many instances, a lake exhibiting obvious signs of winter fishing activity, such as houses, tracks and drilled holes, relates a degree of fishing success or at least ice fishing effort.

Recently drilled holes are even better. A simple ice pick or chisel may be all you need to clear the hole for your line. And while a dedicated ice fishing rod and reel is nice, it's not mandatory. All you really need is a line, a hook and some bait.

A wax worm or minnow is a good start for bait, depending on what type of fish you are after. A short visit with other anglers might yield a few tips or suggestions on what has been most effective. On the same note, if you want to get right down to fishing, use a weight to find the bottom and set the lure a few inches off the bottom for walleye or panfish.

Some anglers targeting pike will simply bait a hook with smelt and send it down.

Ice fishing can be as simple or as complicated as you make it, which is a lot like other great outdoor activities. You don't have to sit around and wait for winter to leave before you get out and enjoy our great outdoors.