New England winters can be brutal.  Whipping winds, cold temperatures, and snow… lots and lots of snow.  For the most part, if you grow up in New England, you’d better find something to do outside or you’ll end up going stir crazy sitting in the house for a good 4 to 5 months until Spring breaks.  When I was a kid my neighborhood was full of kids.  We would all build a fort in our respective yards, then we’d have snowball fights using the forts as safe zones.  It was a blast, lasting hours and hours.  Since all the yards were fence free, we would travel from yard to yard, snowballs in hand.  By the time we were forced into the house, we were all blue from the cold, soaking wet and just waiting till we could go outside again.  As we got a little older, we realized snow was a good way to make money.  So, as young teens, shovels in hand, we trekked up and down, house to house, shovelling driveways, walkways and cleaning off cars.  Since competition was stiff in the neighborhood, I decided to venture down to the town square where I hit pay dirt when one of the pharmacy’s hired me to shovel the sidewalk and banking in front of the store.  I held that job every winter, every storm. Cha-ching!  I didn’t even notice that it took me longer to walk there than it did to shovel.  I stopped going house to house and relied on my one job for extra cash for skiing.  By my late teens I was dating a serious skier and we skied every chance we got.  Up early, skiing all day, dinner and hot cocoa by the fire.  Those were the days.

Over the past four years or so, I’ve been introduced to another winter activity that I’ve always heard of, but never done, or ever seen done, except for in the movies.  Ice Fishing.  When I think of Ice Fishing, I think of a  hand-chipped hole in the ice with a man in an Eskimo coat standing over it casting a rod in the freezing cold.  In my mind, this man is always alone.  Maybe that’s what I saw in a movie as a child but that couldn’t be any further from the way it’s done today.  It’s an art, a craft and a social gathering, to say the least.  In fact, although the goal is to catch fish, fishing is the activity that’s done the least.

There are ice shacks all over the ice, with auger drilled holes strategically placed near the ice shacks so you can monitor activity from inside the shacks. Although you can use a fishing pole, I haven’t seen anyone doing so.  They use automatic ice traps that are placed over the holes with bait on the line.  When a fish takes the bait, a spring released flag goes up to signal a catch.  In the mean time people are gathered on the ice, cooking, grilling, drinking (lots of drinking), laughing and joking.  There are chairs, grills, tables, sleds and dogs (my favorite part) running and playing with no boundaries.

I spent the day on the ice amidst this scenario over the weekend and on top of all the fun, I really enjoyed totally connecting with nature.  It was windy and freezing cold, but I was dressed for it.  If it got too unbearable, I just took cover in the warm ice shack until I warmed up enough to go back out.  The dogs ran and chased each other, catching balls, sticks and of course scraps of food.  Happy dogs make happy people!

There were a million things I could have done, a thousand things I should have done, but decompressing in the cold winter air seemed to beckon me.  I asked my friend to break down the whole experience for me as he sees it.  He’s been ice fishing his entire life and gladly agreed.  He said it’s all about the outside, the people, the cooking, grilling, eating, drinking and relaxing.  Catching a fish is a bonus. Then to top it off, he said if you do catch a fish, well that’s a good day.  He went on to say, if you have lots of beer, that’s a good day.  And, (last, but not least), if you have a girlfriend out on the ice with you, that’s a good day.  So there it is:  fish, beer, girl, in that order.  That’s a good day.

Ice Shack

dogs ice shack