Cold, Wet, and Happy

With temperatures predicted to be in the mid forties and partially cloudy skies I tossed my ice sled filled with ice fishing gear into the back of my pick up truck and headed one town north to Whitingham Vermont. Sadaga Lake can be found here and it is a tried and true ice fishing paradise. My thought was to go ice fishing for about five hours. I looked forward to the quiet time on the ice. I didn’t expect many others on the lake this day as it was midweek.

So much for the weather report. During the twenty minute drive to the lake the skies to the north were ominous and black. The wind was picking up and brief showers splattered my windshield. It looked as if a cold front was moving in. Not necessarily a bad thing if you like ice fishing. From the parking area next to the lake I could see fog rolling across the ice. There was about an inch of water on top of the ice from the day’s melting and the brief showers. I knew it would be slippery so I put my ice grippers onto my pac boots while sitting on my tailgate. Then I unloaded the ice sled from the truck complete with ice auger, tip ups, and a few other necessary ice fishing items. I glanced across the lake and there was one other ice fisherman sitting alone in the middle of the lake. I couldn’t tell if any of the dozen or so ice shanties held fisherman but it was doubtful given I could not see any billowing smoke rising from the shanties stove pipes and I also could not see any tell tale orange flags signifying holes had been bored and tip ups set up. No, it looked as though I was pretty much going to have the lake to myself today.

I passed by the ice fisherman who was sitting down in an old beat up lawn chair, wore a bright red water proof jacket, and was enjoying a big fat cigar; evidently freshly lit given its ten inch length. There’s not too many places you can smoke any more. He probably figured being in the center of a 200 acre frozen lake with absolutely no one else it was a safe bet that no one would complain. He puffed away as I approached.

“How’s the ice fishing?” I asked.

“Slow!” he said emphatically.

“Have you caught any thing at all?” I said.

“A few pickerel, a couple of perch, and a crappie” he stated as he let out a long stream of smoke.

“Looks like the weather is changing.” I said trying to make conversation.

“Looks that way.” he said, evidently a man of few words.

“OK, I’m going to fish on the western shore. Enjoy the weather!” I said.

And just then it started to rain in earnest. The rain came down. A gust of wind came up blowing this strangers ice sled across the ice. He jumped up and tried to catch up to the sled. He must have been smoking those stogies for years because just the act of getting up had him huffing and puffing.

About half way to my destination I looked back towards the lonely ice fisherman. He was sitting again, now under a bright red umbrella that matched his jacket. He looked neither happy or comfortable.

After nearing the opposite shore I started drilling holes with my hand ice auger. The ice was hard and then soft from the freezing and thawing. I took a couple of minutes to drill each hole. With each turn of the handle a circular pile of ice chips piled up around the perimeter of the hole. The first hole revealed there was about 12 inches of ice. I set up my first tip up, put the minnow on the hook, and dropped it slowly into the water. I thought I’d fish about a foot off the bottom on this day. I knew there was about 12 feet of water in this area and tried to put out about 11 feet of line. The rain was really picking up now and so I wanted to get everything set up as quick as I could so that I could stay relatively dry. I started my second auger hole about 50 feet to the north and before I had drilled out five inches of ice I could see the tip up flag on my first tip up jump straight up in the air indicating that I had a fish on the other end.

I ran over to this tip up, watched the reel to see if it was still turning, and pulled the tip up out and set it on the ice. The line was taught and I set the hook. I pulled the ice fishing line, hand over hand, until I could see the head of a medium size bass coming through the hole. I reached down and unhooked him. The bass did a quick about face and swam right back to the bottom of the lake. Can’t say I blame him either. It was his lucky day.

I continued to catch fish while I set up tip-ups. I kept a few pickerel that had swallowed the hook. They would make a nice meal later on. It took me about 45 minutes to set up all of my tip ups. I was pretty wet and the wind was blowing. According to the thermometer hanging on the zipper of my vest it was about thirty eight degrees.

Like my fishing acquaintance across the lake I set up an old lawn chair and took out my umbrella. I took out some coffee that was laced with just a bit of brandy and sat down to enjoy the weather. The cold front brought waves of rain, fog, and wind. There’s nothing quite like 38 degrees, cold rain, a twenty five mile an hour wind to make a guy nice and comfortable. What can I say? I love being outside in horrible weather. The colder and wetter the better. I knew that I could tolerate about 4 hours of this if I stayed partially dry.

So there I was, sitting on the ice taking in the glorious view. I enjoyed watching the brightly colored ice shanties disappear each time the wind stopped blowing and the fog formed across the ice and then reappear as it blew off with the next approaching front.

I looked over the where the other ice fisherman was sitting. He was picking up his tip ups. Most likely the sideways, wind blown rain had missed his umbrella and found its way through his red rain suit. Worse it had probably extinguished his cigar! I didn’t blame him. Being wet and cold is only fun for some!

There was enough fishing action to keep me moving about half the time I was there. This kept me warm despite the dropping temperatures and heavy rain. I knew the temperature must be getting close to freezing as the water on top of the ice was freezing. I can’t work with gloves on and so my bare hands were now getting numb from handling the ice fishing gear, getting live minnows out of the freezing cold water in my bait bucket, and sticking my hand into the icy waters when unhooking a fish to release it. It’s all part of the ice fishing game and probably why so many people only go ice fishing once or twice. Still, its perfect for me. The more miserable the better.

I looked to the northwest and I could see clear skies. That meant the cold front was nearly over the region and the unpredictable weather would become more settled as dark set in.

The skies began to clear at just about sundown. Not wanting to pick up my gear in the dark I gathered everything together and loaded the ice sled. The only noise that I could hear as I traveled back across the ice was the sound of my sled sliding over the frozen lake. The sound was steady and somehow soothing. I turned to look back and the sun was just dropping over the horizon.

The ice was patterned with patches and blotches of yellow and gold. I took it all in one last time and then gripped the rope that led to the ice sled with my bare hands and pulled towards land.

It would be good to get home and see my love’s smiling face.

Written for in February of 2012.

  • Emily

    The title was enough to make me grin. (“I love being outside in horrible weather.” Ha!) Another adventure on the ice, Bill, that reminds me of how much I need to get out there with a auger and a pole and try my hand at all the fun. You tell these stories oh so well. Great photos, too!

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you Emily.  I enjoy all outdoor activities especially the ones that involve bad weather.  I do enjoy a beautiful day.  It’s the contrast between the horrible weather and the great weather that is spellbinding.  And yes, you should get out on the ice.  There is nothing quite like it.

  • Hudsonhowl

    Our ice thus far is soft. No, its liquid. Unless I head eight hours north to my Brother’s . This year’s ice fishing memory will be from previous years. 

  • Wild_Bill

    Wow!  It’s amazing that there is no ice where you live.  A strange weather year indeed!  Thank goodness for memories.

  • sandy

    I’ll bet you are really happy in a blizzard! Glad you caught some fish, and enjoyed yourself. You did get some nice photos from your lawn chair. Have you ever had an ice house?

  • Annie

      The smile on your face says it all. You didn’t even need the words, just the title and the picture.

  • Ratty

    You make something that would seem miserable to many people sound very good. I was fantasizing about being out there myself while I was reading. This is why I  always save your posts as the last on my reading list. They’re like the main event for me. I’m always left with a similar satisfied feeling of peace like the one I get when I’m actually out by myself in nature.

  • Montucky

    A great day on the ice! Nice to have it all to yourself! I was on the ice today too, not fishing, just walking. The ice was thick, but noisy. Cracking sounds rather normal, but another sound I’ve never heard before. It sounded like a distant bass drum, pulsating, quite loud. I don’t know what the lake was saying!

  • Barbara

    When I mentioned ice fishing yesterday in a meeting, everyone laughed and one fellow said the anglers are all in the river this year – already (usually our salmon and trout runs don’t start until late March or early April). No ice here, though several anglers are fishing off one of the rocky ledges where it’s quite deep only two or three feet off-shore. No ice, no snowbanks, nothing like winter here in central Ontario. So you are among the lucky ones who enjoy this winter sport.

    It takes a particular kind of man to love bad weather and plan to go out and enjoy it. You are of that kind Bill… Love the story and the photos. Like both Ratty and Montucky, I savour your essays and stories. I have heard that distant bass drum of Montucky’s, thrumming as if it’s a great heart beat.

    The last photo is particularly haunting Bill and beautiful.

    This was a great read – thanks – I can almost feel the mist against my skin.

  • bill

    The low. almost liquid, bass drum sound you hear is the ice expanding. It really is a haunting sound, isn’t it? I really like being on the ice especially alone! Thanks for reading!

  • Wild_Bill

    The low, almost liquid, bass sound you hear is the sound of ice expanding as it freezes.  Later in the season there will be rifle like cracks when the melting process relieves pressure.  Being on the ice is wonderful, especially when it is desolate.

  • Wild_Bill

    I love being outdoors in a blizzard especially in the woods at night.  I have never had an ice shanty but I did fish for walleye from one at night in Michigan.   It was a lot of fun!

  • Wild_Bill

    Not a great picture of me but it probably does resemble me these days.  I still picture myself as I looked like when I was about 30.  Some days when I’m brushing my teeth I look into the mirror, shriek, jump back, and wonder who the heck the guy is looking back at me with the toothbrush in his hand!  Horrors!

  • Wild_Bill

    That is quite a compliment Ratty.  I hope someday we can have a real life adventure together.  In the meantime you can come along on my virtual journeys any time you wish.  It is always a pleasure

  • Wild_Bill

    A lot of my friends think my love for adventure in bad weather is highly questionable, at least with regard to mental health issues.  Whatever gets the adrenaline going is good with me.  Bad weather, a little danger, a real challenge, and all together they make the best experience. 

  • Al

    The photos are lovely, but ice fishing is not for me. But I’m glad you enjoyed it, that’s what matters!

  • Find an Outlet

    My partner has fond memories of ice fishing back in CT. He had a wooden box bolted to a pair of old skis cut to fit, with a rope attached. They wore cheap crampons and they didn’t like gloves either! His friend’s gear box held a Coleman stove and of course the mandatory bottle of brandy. There was a six-hole limit in CT, mostly they caught trout, bass, and perch. Yum. The closest thing we have to fresh fish here is a can of tuna whose expiration date hasn’t passed.

    The adventures are great to hear about, including an icy lake’s official soundtrack. Your description and pictures are wonderful because I’ll never see anything like that…I’m content to stay safely planted on terra firma. PS—great shot of you, born to be wild!

  • IcyCucky

    Your photos are beautiful and mysterious looking! I’ve tried ice fishing a few times, but my feet and hands were frozen solid after a few minutes. I’m reliving the memories through your post, but this time it’s so much better, and warmer.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Al for the compliment on the photos.  No, ice fishing is not for everyone.  In fact there are a few who do it and I wonder why.  The other day these people drove out onto the ice in their Subaru, set up a few tip-ups, and sat in the car with the motor running for a few hours.  They only time they got out of the car was when a flag popped up indicating they had a bite.  Gotta make one wonder!

  • Wild_Bill

    There is no ice in CT this year.  In fact only 30 miles south of me there is little or no ice, and to our north in Ontario there is no ice at many locations as well.  Lucky we live in a region that gets cold enough for ice, so far, in any given year. 

    I laughed when you indicated the photo of me was a “great shot”.  Contrast with your recent picture.  I’m lookin’ kind of old and you’re lookin’ nearly ageless! 

  • Wild_Bill

    There are lots of people who don’t enjoy ice fishing but enjoy other activities outdoors in the cold weather.  I just love to go fishing, spring, summer, autumn, and winter.  Gotta go and get my ice fishing stuff loaded in the truck, it looks like a beautiful and cold day!

  • Annie

     It’s all in the eyes. No matter how much we change those mirrors to our soul only get better and better. You’re only as OLD as you want to be.

  • Wild_Bill

    Wise words Annie. I want to be about 24 years old today.  We’ll see what happens.  I’ll probably start setting up a tipi!

  • Teresaevangeline

    As I might have mentioned in a previous post, I always liked being out on the ice, especially when the fish were biting fast and furious. There is something about being out in the elements that feels primordial and right.  And the payoff is mighty tasty!   It helps to have the warmth of home and a smiling face to return to. :)

  • Wild_Bill

    They don’t always bite fast and furious but when they do its a lot of fun!  As far as weather is concerned the badder the better.  And yes, home is where the heart is, and my heart is always with my wonderful partner Maureen.

  • craftygreenpoet

    it looks amazing out there! Too cold for me though, even after our recent colder winters…..

  • Wild_Bill

    This is the mildest winter in I don’t know how long, still cold enough to create ice though.  I only wish we could get some 30 below (Fahrenheit) like we had in the not too distant past!

  • Marvin Smith

    Glad you enjoyed being on the ice in the rain and wind.  That’s the important part.

  • Wild_Bill

    I try to really enjoy any outdoor experience.  A lost moment in nature does not oft repeat itself.  The beauty of all this is that there will be more and many for those who take the time.

  • Jack Matthews

    Wild Bill: Your photographs are wonderful!  Good to see your face.  You be happy I can tell.  What a life we have on ice and snow.  We are having a snow shower now, but it is not sticking.

  • Wild_Bill

    I feel like those who live in four separate seasons are truly blessed.  New England is such a place.  None last too long or too little.  At least not for now.  I saw on the weather that Texas was getting snow.  It was pretty cold here today.

  • shoreacres

    I smiled to see your comment that you can’t work with gloves on. I can’t either – neither sanding nor varnishing. Actually, with the varnishing it doesn’t matter, because if it’s cold enough for gloves it’s too cold to varnish. Sanding is different – some people do use gloves, but I feel the need for more control.

    I’ve never done ice fishing, but there’s clearly a continuum, just as there is here with deer hunting. Some deer hunters go out to truly stalk, experience the outdoors and bring back food for their families. Others go to “deer camp”, drink beer, tell stories and run four-wheelers around. I think I like your approach better – so did that bass!

  • Jamworks

    You chose the perfect portrait to accompany your story. You look deliriously happy… and I can’t help thinking… this guy is seriously demented – who loves being outside in horrible weather, the colder and wetter the better?!? The photo supplies the answer. I absolutely do enjoy reading about your adventures as I swelter in tropical Australia. 

  • Wild_Bill

     Gloves are a nuisance unless its forty below.  Just can’t seem to make them work for me.  Like deer hunting, the practice of ice fishing for the harvesting of food should not be lost in our culture.  The more dependent we are on others to give us what we need the closer we are to loosing our freedom and independence.  Just my opinion.

  • Wild_Bill

     You are not the first one, nor will you be the last, to suggest I’m a little touched in the head.  Cold weather happiness is necessary in the north, unless you want to spend your entire life inside, and I can’t imagine who could be happy like that.  Delirious?  Yep.

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