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 www.wildramblings.com in February of 2012.