On that last day of the year, when all items on the calendar seem to come to a close , we had everything to look forward to. I can’t imagine a better way to end the year, ice fishing with my son Liam, on a southern Vermont lake that is only 20 minutes from my house. The recent cold temperatures had produced enough ice so as to be safe. Our equipment had been recently dug out of storage from last year. And our hearts were open to a glorious day on the ice: boring holes, setting tip-ups, and hopefully bringing in a few fish.
As with any early winter ice fishing trip there is the unexpected. On this day it would be the slush on top of the ice, some of it refrozen, and some not. In places the frozen slush would crack under your feet and initially this was met with some trepidation bringing memories of slipping through a hole into a cold black abyss. Our ice borings, done with safety in mind and before we bought our bait, indicated that the real ice, that hard shelf of frozen water under the slush was a solid five inches thick. This was more than enough to support two fishermen who enjoy the challenge of the cold, a hand held ice auger, and the flash of a raised flag on a tip-up.
Indeed the slush was somewhat unnerving even with the knowledge of solid ice underneath. And yes, the work of setting up the equipment was made difficult. No sooner had Liam bored a hole and the slush would fill it. Extra care in cleaning the holes and setting the tip-ups was necessary. And to make matters even more difficult blowing snow filled the freshly augered holes. This thin layer of snow floating on very cold water had to removed before trying to get a shiner and hook to sink to the bottom.
This thick layer of slush, created by the weight of recent heavy snowfalls settling on the ice and weighing it down, allowed water to run over the surface from unfrozen pockets where springs kept the water warm around the edge of the pond and near moving water where streams ran both north and east. The water, mixing with the newly fallen snow, created a slushy snow cone devoid of a syrup that might have made it somewhat more attractive. The slush was four or five inches deep and hindered free movement on the ice. Each and every step ass slowed. More energy was used in trekking from one tip-up to the next. Our waterproof boots were a necessity without which we would have abandoned our efforts early on in the day.
One advantage of early ice fishing is the easy boring of holes. It takes moments to auger through five inches of ice. Later in the year it may be 30 or more inches through. These deeper ice sheets require significant effort to drill through. Since we are purists, and use only human powered equipment, we appreciate the times when the setting up of our day of fishing is just a little bit easier.
Liam used the Swedish auger to bore the holes while I cleaned the holes and set up the tip-ups. His chore went quickly, and mine, made more difficult by the sliding slush, required slow methodical movement and patience. Liam finished the hole drilling and started to set up the ice fishing equipment over holes that I had not yet gotten to.
Before we finished, the first flag was released, indicating there was a fish on the line. Liam went to the tip-up, placed the piece of fishing equipment on its side on the ice, and held the line. A tug ensued and Liam set the hook. Before you knew it we had a nice perch. We decided to return it back into the water. It was healthy and had taken no damage from the struggle. And wouldn’t you know it! We caught the same fish not five minutes later on the same set up. This second time he swallowed the hook and landed in the keeper pile in the ice sled. The thought of fresh fish filets wet my palette.
The skies were dark and angry to the south. A cold front pushed through and we braced for the wind. Our layers of clothing kept us warm. The bottom of our coveralls, wet from slush, were separated from our skin by our pack boots. We sat down for a moment in old, beat-up, lawn chairs that we brought out onto the ice. We enjoyed a drink and ate a sandwich. The wind blew. Snow, lifted off the ice, blew against our well insulated bodies. And occasionally a tip-up flag was released; a welcome sign of success for our efforts.
I am extraordinarily comfortable with Liam. We have a unique relationship. He knows nearly everything about me. He accepts me for who I am and that is very much appreciated. That we can sit for moments, not say a word, and just let time pass comfortably is wonderful.
Purple and gray clouds blew from south to north. There was an occasional peak of sunshine. The only sound was the steady blowing wind. And the thought occurred to me “ What could be better?”
Liam looked up and saw two Fish and Game Wardens walking through the slush across the frozen pond. They walked directly towards us. We greeted them with our fishing licenses and our live bait permit. We exchanged pleasantries and they went off to the only other two fishermen on the pond. I wondered if they were enjoying their jobs.
The sun began to find more and more openings between the dark clouds. We now could see dark shadows skating across the ice and snow. The wind strengthened and it was getting bone chilling cold. It was now late in the afternoon. We had fished for five hours and caught about fifteen fish including one very nice three pound bass which was put back into the ice hole to survive another day. We kept five perch and pickerel. Just enough for a meal for one person.
As the sun got low on the horizon in the southwestern sky Liam and I began taking down the ice fishing equipment. The lines were reeled in. Each tip up was folded and placed in a basket. All of the equipment was stowed in our ice sled and we trudged back through the slush towards our pick-up truck that was parked along the shore. As we marched off of this frozen pond I looked back.
The sun was covered with clouds. Two crows flew across the southern sky, And I took a moment to thank our Creator for this day that I had with my son.
A cold wind blew from the north. Our day done. A new year would begin tomorrow.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in January 2013.