Ice fishing is something you hear a lot about if you live in northern New England, but it isn’t necessarily something everyone experiences first-hand. So on the way back from the best pumpkin pancakes ever, (Parker’s Maple Barn, Mason, NH) when we passed an easily accessible lake with several huts and a few visible residents, I grabbed my trusty camera and took advantage of the opportunity with the hope that the nearest populated hut would welcome an unsteady traveler slowly closing in on their homestead by carefully picking her way across the lake, searching out the rough patches of snow-covered ice to steady her sliding fashion boots. I had a few questions and about 15 minutes to spare until my ears became frost bitten (I’m not really a hat person). These bobhouse residents were kind, and taught me the basics, with no fear at all that I would compete for their spot this year or next.
- First, access the water, and we’re not talking open water. The family hustled to the ice hole while I lagged behind, hadn’t gotten my “lake legs” yet. At the mom’s urging I got closer to peer into the hole only after estimating that it was about 6-8” wide, not large enough for my foot (or a small child) to fall through. The ice was about 12″ thick. An enormous vivid yellow and black corkscrew rested on its side by the hut. It was fit for a wine bottle whose size I could not fathom. It had done the hole-job and was either a mechanical or gas powered Auger. I hadn’t known enough to ask that question.
- Ice fishing gear is often a strange contraption with a spring-set flag placed across a hole. The flag announces the attachment of a fish by waving tall and free. The base is too large to allow the gear to fall through. Depending on the lake and the fish, an angler with a fishing license can set up to six lines. Of the dozen or so huts on the lake, none had a traditional rod and reel on display.
- Ice fishing is a sport that should not be confused with exercise. The day includes a drive right onto the lake, setting lines, then sitting back waiting for the fish and gear to do the work. The next part of the day is spent gabbing and eating (the only vegetable I saw was a potato chip), and drinking. But a body consumes more calories shivering than not, so a fisherperson who is under-dressed, might burn off the snack food calories. The little kids certainly did as they skated and ran around acting like, well, little kids outside having fun.
- If the neon orange flag flies, you may or may not have a fish. Fishing was slow this afternoon. But one flag was waving, and I made my way with the faster moving toddlers to the small family gathering: one mom, two toddlers, a dad with video cam, and a voice shouting “Let me see, Let me see” that just might have been mine. It was the young boy’s turn to reel it in, and I restrained myself from usurping the honor, even when he took a really, really long time. ”Get the camera, get the camera”. Mine was carefully focused, and we saw….nothing but bait. Wily fish escape artist or hyperactive bait, I don’t know which triggered the flag.
- The bait (shiners) are really pretty, and I immediately remembered why I stopped fishing. I’d kept several goldfish varieties alive for 8 years. These silvery creatures would have added a little bling to my all black fish tank. I saw other discarded shiners in the parking lot, frozen, and felt a little sad. Eating a store bought fillet isn’t hard for me, but being the one to end the pretty fish life is. I readily admit that I am a non-vegan hypocrite.
- Ice fishing offers a chance to interact with nature and absorb so many beautiful images, when/if, you spend some time looking around between exiting your truck, setting your lines and entering your heated hut. Blue sky, artistically placed clouds, pink-cheeked children, towering evergreens, inquisitive birds, and then there are the huts.
- The huts (also called “bobhouses”) are a combination of practical and ingenious, offering splashes of color to the whites, blues, and grays of ice and snow. They are the winter equivalent of beach umbrellas with colors and shape chosen to easily identify home base. One looked like a rehabbed green dumpster set on its side, others handcrafted of spare wood and parts, some had seemingly been around for years. Structures in the upscale ice neighborhoods capitalized on the 360 lake front views; they were store-bought mini McMansions with multiple windows, grill, fireplace and skating rink.
- NH Dept. of Environmental Services protects its valuable natural resources by regulating lead-based fishing tackle, use and storage of petroleum products, live bait disposal, open fire and ash disposal, and the removal of the hut (before the melting ice causes it, or its supports, to sink).
All in all, it seems to me that ice fishing is as good an excuse as any to get outside and enjoy winter, with fewer life threatening hazards than downhill skiing and the potential to catch your own healthy dinner after a day of chips and beer.
More about ice fishing at NH Fish & Game: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/icefishing/index.html
©2013 by Alison Colby-Campbell