Well, it’s here, ice fishing season. If you go ice fishing take a kid along. The ice is safe now, but be careful and don’t do anything foolish like walk too close to a stream inlet or near open water.
Many of us were exposed to ice fishing when we were kids. Chances are good that a dad, older brother or uncle brought us ice fishing for the first time, and chances are also good that we have never forgotten that day.
In my case, my oldest brother Joe and our good friend and neighbor Henry (Hank) Sedgwick brought me to Stockbridge Bowl on my first trip. It was in the early 1950’s when I was about 10 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday.
We had no sooner stepped onto the ice when it made a scary crack and rumble. I froze where I stood. They laughed and reassured me that there was nothing to worry about, that there was over a foot of ice and that the lake was just “working”. We set up our tip-ups off of the Shadowbrook Shore.
Standing on frozen water and chiseling a hole into the ice (no augers back then) was a whole new experience for me. No, the water didn’t gush out of the hole as feared but just stayed there. We scooped the chipped ice out of the holes, set up the tip-ups, spread out the line onto the ice (our tip ups didn’t have reels on them in those days), sounded the holes (determined the water depth), baited the hooks (with shiners) lowered them into the holes, and attached the flags to the tip-ups so that they would pop up when a fish ate the bait and moved. When the holes were all dug and tip-ups set up, I couldn’t wait for a fish to come along and eat the bait to see what happened next.
We were standing on the shoreline and it was a cold, cloudy day with periodic spits of snow. It was slow fishing until about 11:00 am when Hank’s flag popped up a couple of hundred feet away. Out onto the ice he hurried to tend to the tip-up. I wanted to go with him to see what happened next, but Joe insisted that I stay with him on the shore line to gather up some dry twigs and branches to start a fire to warm up and cook some hot dogs. While gathering the firewood, I kept glancing out to Hank to see what was going on, but he knelt next to the hole in a way which blocked my view.
After a few minutes he came back claiming that the fish had hit his bait and sprang the flag but didn’t hook itself, so he reset the flag. No sooner had he returned when the flag went up again and this time they said “You take this one, Spike” ( nickname that my father, brothers and Hank called me). The three of us ran out to the tip-up. While running there, we could see the line which had been spread out on the ice being pulled into the hole by a fish.
I didn’t know what to do so they were shouting instructions. Pull the line to set the hook! Now pull the line in hand over hand straight out of the hole! I could feel the fish fighting back. Wow! What a thrill. Pretty soon I could see the head of the fish sticking out of the hole and quickly pulled it out. There, flopping on the ice, was a 19 inch pickerel. I had never caught a pickerel or any fish that large before. I received a lot of congratulations and pats on the back (no such thing as a high 5’s in those days).
It turned out to be the only fish caught by anyone that day and I never forgot it. Even though it occurred over 60 years ago I think about it frequently.
Then one night last year, I had a rude awakening. It suddenly occurred to me that the whole event was probably staged for my benefit. Perhaps Hank went out to that tip-up, solidly hooked the fish, let it stay in the water on the hook and reset the flag. As soon as the fish moved again, it set the flag off and they wanted me to catch it – my first fish. I have used the same ploy over the years with my nephews and kids and I should have figured it out sooner.
My brother Joe has long since passed beyond the river bend and I can’t ask him, but Hank is still around and I see him every now and then. I asked him one night last year if that event was staged. After a period of silence and the display of an excellent poker face, he said, “ Geeze, Spike, I don’t remember”. Well, if it was staged, that only made the event all the more special.
I encourage dads and granddads to expose the kids (boys and girls) to ice fishing at least once. They will either love it or hate it, but probably will never forget it. Who knows, perhaps 60 years from now, one of them will also be writing about it in their outdoor sports column. *****
This evening at 5:30 pm the Lee Sportsmen’s Association will be holding a fund raising venison and polenta dinner to support its pheasant program. They raise pheasants and release them on public lands for all hunters to enjoy. The cost is $15 for adults and $6 under 12. Contact Dick Salice at (413) 822-8411 for more information.