The Last Day of the Year

Tracks in the snow and slush on the frozen pond.

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.

Frozen shore line.

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.

Tip-up.

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.

Precious moments are much appreciated these days.

A cold wind blew from the north. Our day done. A new year would begin tomorrow.

Cabin on the lake.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in January 2013.

  • Barb

    So enjoyed your essay – though I was glad to be reading it in front of my fire! Very cold here in CO, too – we got frostbite skiing this AM. Hope the fish tasted yummy

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Barb. Hoping the frostbite did no permanent damage! Keeping exposed areas and extremities from freezing can be difficult. My son took home the fish to his place. I still have plenty from summer.

  • Montucky

    I’ve done that but haven’t in years. Don’t care for it all that much, but a trip with my son would make it a great day.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Ice fishing is something that either you like or you don’t. There seems to be no in between. On a day of lively fishing it is very busy, on a quiet day one is left to his or her thoughts. And you have to love the cold!

  • Teresa Evangeline

    I did some ice fishing with my second husband and I remember one evening where the crappies were biting so quickly that I couldn’t keep my gloves on for re-baiting and my fingers got pretty cold, but it was worth it. Nothing better than fresh crappies through the ice fried up in a pan. Fresh fish any time is the perfect meal. and a day with your son …it doesn’t get much better. Like the pic of you under your hooded coat and the sky overhead….

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    You’re right. Nothing better than fish fileted and cooked on the ice immediately after being caught. I really like crappies but there not plentiful in this area. I’ll have to figure out a place to catch them where there are large populations. Sounds like fun. Not the best picture of me but, unfortunately, accurate! Oh well.

  • Emily B

    Oh, ice fishing. Something I still have not officially done! You make such a case here for the joy it brings you, especially in the presence of your son, that if not before, I’ll make sure I experience this winter activity with my own young loved ones. Happy New Year, Bill!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Actually I thought of your near ice fishing experience as part of your 30 before 30 experience more than a year ago. You did come close to the real experience. I hope that you someday experience it, and yes, it is much better with your children (although I highly recommend you wait until they can really appreciate it). I am a cold weather guy. Today it is cold and snowy. What could be better! Hoping the best year ever for you and yours. Somehow I think it may be just that!

  • Barbara

    Great essay – and what a marvelous way to end the year – with your son. Hope you and Liam have many more good ice fishing days in 2013 – I suspect you will as it looks to be a long white winter. Enjoyed every second of this story, which still has me smiling. Thanks for letting us spend time with you out on the ice, without the nippy fingers and toes… well not that I actually mind that – I love snow too and it’s coming down gently as I write. Happy new year Bill – to you, Maureen, the dogs and your sons.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Barbara. With luck we’ll have plenty of ice fishing. I’m hoping my oldest son can join me this month. Planning a trip to a wild lake in Vt. where they allow bass through the ice and there are very few ice fishermen or women, but more than enough snowmobilers! Happy New Year to you and yours. Hoping you have a peaceful and healthy year!

  • craftygreenpoet

    That sounds like a lovely way to end the year and as you say it’s wonderful to have someone with whom you feel that close to.

    We never get that sort of amount of ice, though a couple of years ago the local canal was covered in ice thick enough to safely walk across.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’m surprised you don’t get ice thick enough to fish on in Scotland. Perhaps to the west and north? Gulf stream impacts no doubt. As they disappear with climate change your climate will get very cold.

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