John Harrigan: Ice fishing, a sport for the certifiable
HANGING IN the barn is a hand-powered ice auger. Whenever I glance up at it, and the bait bucket and ice-scoop nearby, two words come to mind "idiot" and "moron" as the answer to the question "What kind of person would use these implements?"
I'm thinking here of a particularly cold and brutal day when Mike MacDonald and I and a couple of other cretins decided to bore holes through the ice on Third Connecticut Lake in a Force Four gale at 25 below. Even the dog knew it was stupid, and dug a hole behind a snowdrift and refused to come out.
Mike is one of those guys who is always optimistic and enthusiastic about everything. You could tell him, as he stood there boring a hole through 4 feet of ice, that a gigantic freshwater moray eel could lunge at him from the depths, and he'd answer "Ha-ha" and keep on drilling.
Mike would laugh cheerfully if he was being blown across the lake by a gust of wind from the Beaufort Sea.
When I succumbed to the insanity of ice fishing at age 12 or so, we snowshoed 5 miles into Big Diamond Pond to hole up in a camp with Ben Lay and a motley assortment of other insane people.
"Oh boy!" exulted Ben, or in words to that effect. "Three more people! That means we can have a lot more holes! Yippee!"
This was before the ice-auger was widely available, and "cutting a hole" was a euphemism for standing there for a very long time and pounding away with a sharp blade at the end of a 5-foot pole. You had to start fairly wide, because the hole tended to become an inverted pyramid the further down it went.
An aptitude for math being one of my few gifts, I quickly deduced I would have to catch five fish just to replace the energy spent in creating one hole. It was during this first outing that I learned about ice fishing's rich traditions.
There is, for instance, the "Daffy Duck," which is what you look like when a flag goes up and you try to get traction on the ice so you can sprint over to find nothing but missing bait.
There is the hook through the finger, right there where the bait's dorsal fin was a split-second before.
There is the joy of plunging your hand into ice-cold bait bucket for a minnow.
Of course there is visiting. In our group's case, it involved younger members of the crew being left to tend traps while men trudged from one ice shanty to another "to see how the boys are doing."
These visits seemed to take quite a while, and we noticed when they emerged, our leaders took a bit longer to reach the next shanty, often by an elliptical course.
Thinking about this, on Third Lake that awful day, I saw a flag go up, and we all did splendid Daffy Ducks racing to the hole. There was, of course, no one to appreciate it, because no normal, logical person would be in such a place. The bait was still there, healthy and whole. It had been a wind-flag, the most hated flag of all.
We reacted to this false alarm and utter waste of time and energy the way anyone who's insane enough to fish through the ice would react, which was to point off into the distance and yell, "Hey, how about drilling a hole over there?"
John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook 03576. E-mail: email@example.com
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