(Chelsea Update would like to thank Tom Hodgson and the Waterloo Natural History Association for the photos and information in this story.)
Ice fishermen had it rough last winter due to all the warm weather.
So far, this year is shaping up to be much better. In addition to good ice, one needs bait in order to entice those fat bluegills and crappie to bite the hook.
Bait can be purchased at the local convenience store, or collected for free from back yards or nearby fields.
Remember the September fields filled with bright yellow goldenrod blossoms? It’s time to pay those fields a visit. The blossoms are long gone, but the stems remain, and many of them sport one or two curious, round swellings about the size of large marbles.
Inside each is an insect larva just the right size for an ice fishing hook.
These swellings are galls made by the goldenrod gall fly. In spring, the adult fly lays an egg in the newly emerging goldenrod stem. The larva soon hatches and begins feeding on the tissues of the stem.
This activity and enzymes released in the larva’s saliva, stimulate the stem to form a round growth called a gall. The larva reaches full size by the end of the summer, and remains inside the gall through most of the winter. In late winter or early spring, it transforms into the pupa stage, and a few weeks later into the adult fly.
A bag full of goldenrod galls should be enough for several hours of ice fishing. Crack each gall open with a knife as needed. As the winter progresses, good galls may become harder to find as downy woodpeckers will peck them open for the juicy larva inside.