Once, while on vacation, I tried to explain the sport of ice fishing to a native Floridian who had never even seen a single snowflake. I could tell by his blank, uncomprehending look as I spoke that he thought that the Pina Colada I was drinking was going to my head in the 90◦F south Florida heat. I couldn’t really blame him; the more I tried to explain it, the stranger it sounded even to me!
Think about it . . . we Northerners wait until it gets cold enough for large bodies of water to freeze over with hopefully at least 6 inches of ice. Then we brave an unimpeded Arctic wind to walk out on the frigid lake and drill little holes in the ice. That being done, we set up tip-ups (fishing devices with red alert flags on them) or jig through the freshly drilled hole (jerking a lure up and down with a tiny fishing pole). Usually a large fire is built on the ice (no, it doesn’t melt through and fall in – see Earth Science) and everybody sits around on small chairs or milk crates in below-zero weather (sometimes for hours on end), waiting for a red flag to pop up signaling a little fishing action. People in the tropics think we are crazy, dumb, or both – who can blame them?
I even know a few people who have these outhouse-type buildings on skis, which are pulled out to their favorite fishing hole. Some of these ice shacks have wood stoves, TVs, beds and other creature comforts in them. I guess you really have to like ice fishing to put all that time and money into one of these portable shelters. They work pretty well; I used to know a man who slept overnight in his just to get away from his family. Most of us don’t have an ice condo to sleep in however. Rather, we brave the elements, just for the chance to slip and fall on the ice – or just plain fall through the ice! – get frostbite (or heatstroke from too many layers of clothing!), and a number of other things we Northerners call fun!
ln one crazy/dumb/fun instance, I took a large group of special needs students ice fishing; one of these students was a 300-pound, accident-prone teenager named Dan. He was so accident prone that even a passive activity would become a minor crisis. If something could go wrong it happened to Dan! So to be on the safe side I told Dan to sit on a milk crate next to the fire and toast hotdogs for everybody. He complied happily, and the rest of us set about drilling holes and setting up tip-ups.
One of the first holes we had baited had its flag pop up while the rest of us were still busy setting up the other ten holes we had drilled. Dan saw the flag and jumped up off his crate and attempted to run over to the spot. Running on ice is not easily done by anyone, and especially not by Dan. So just to complicate things, he promptly stepped into a freshly drilled hole – not only did his foot go through but so did the rest of his leg, all the way up to his thigh! Dan was stuck like a cork in a bottle. It took three of us on either side to unwedge him from his trap. When he did come loose, his leg made an audible POP as he was freed! Dan’s very wet limb came out of the hole minus his boot and sock. They were lost forever in the depths of the frozen lake. Although we quickly wrapped his foot in a towel, Dan was shivering by the time we made the long, very uncomfortable walk back to the van. I drove him back to the school in silence. Needless to say, Dan never went ice fishing again.
So as I mentioned at the beginning, trying to explain this kind of fun to my Floridian host was kind of a challenge. They have no reference point nor do I think they really want one! It’s strictly a Northern thing.
~ Michael Romano, a Great Barrington, MA, resident for almost 40 years, was an avid fisherman who in his own words “kind of treats fishing as a contact sport and has had more than a few misadventures in the process.” He fished many local waters and also enjoyed quite a few saltwater trips. Michael was a retired chef – he and his wife Susan worked at the now closed Kolburne School in New Marlborough, MA, for many years where he enjoyed taking many of the students fishing. He will be missed.
Read this article in the Dec 2016 - Feb 2017 issue of Our BerkshireTimes Magazine.