Earlier this month, at the tail end of Big Cold Blast No. 1, I set out on my very first ice fishing expedition. That’s overstating things slightly, because it only meant a car ride to Silver Lake in Wilmington, and no true outdoor expedition can be so close to the endless string of gas stations and fast food joints that line the road to Silver Lake.
Outdoorsman Rule No. 1: No expedition can include a stop at the Dunky’s drive-thru window or a double order of McDonald’s hash browns.
But the small lake had ice, really thick and secure ice, and nearly a dozen people were fishing when I rolled up there late one Sunday morning. Almost perfect conditions. It was sunny and 28 degrees, balmy on the Polar Vortex Index, which wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I wanted really cold, the mind-numbing, spirit-breaking, keep-me-Netflixing, Green Bay kind of cold inherent in my most important question:
Really, why? In such frigid temperatures, like those we’ve been experiencing recently in Big Cold Blast No. 2, why would anyone go outdoors, drill a hole, drop a line, stand in clunky boots atop ice, wind whipping in one’s face, and above all, FREEZE!, in hopes of catching something far more easily hooked at, say, Whole Foods or Stop & Shop?
Good cod, in the name of Gadabout Gaddis and Roger Berkowitz, why?
“Well, there’s a lot of different attractions,’’ pondered Eric Hromada, a lifelong fisherman whose frozen kingdom that morning consisted of five “working’’ holes he chiseled into Silver Lake. “No. 1 is just being outside in the cold. It’s great. And then there’s the quiet . . .’’
The “great’’ to be found in being cold, most would agree, is debatable. But I think most of us get “quiet.’’ If I’m ever compelled to be an angler, which I doubt, be it on water frozen or fluid, it will be my ever-increasing need for dialing back life’s noise that gets me out there.
As much as I get a kick out of hearing Peyton Manning shout, “Omaha!,’’ I find myself increasingly hitting the mute button when watching games on TV. All games, but especially football. I see the game, I read the endless stream of graphics and fixed video bugs (i.e. score, down and distance), and HD puts things in perfect focus.
I use the remote to pop in and out on the audio like a slot receiver slipping in and out of open spaces just over scrimmage. I don’t need all the crowd noise, play-by-play screeching, and analytical overload.
“And there is something about watching a flag go up on one of the tip-ups,’’ further explained Hromada, 41, who grew up in Melrose and started fishing at age 4. “Or just jigging up some perch through the hole.’’
After all the screaming and yelling in sports broadcasting, a trip to a frozen lake is the very definition of safe harbor.
Need a break? Get thee to a frozen lake.
OK, here is the Ice Fishing for Dummies explainer:
1. “Tip-ups” are the small contraptions, typically with tiny red tip-up flags, most commonly used in the sport. A hole is drilled or chiseled open, and the tip-up mechanism is placed over the hole, with attached fishing line and bait lowered into the deep. Once a fish strikes, the flag goes up, Indy 500 style, and it’s time to pull in the catch.
2. “Jigging” is less common. A jig is essentially a tiny fishing rod, with line and bait attached Huckleberry Finn-like. Drill the hole, drop the line. The angler can sit there, rod in hand, or slip it into a secure rod holder.
All in all, ice fishing is like other fishing. It’s a blend of common sense, proper equipment, patience, and ultimately experience. For those who have never tried it, MassWildlife is holding two clinics this Saturday (Feb. 1) — one at Buffumville Lake in Charlton (10 a.m-2 p.m.), the other at Lake Whitehall in Hopkinton (11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.).
It’s all free. MassWildlife provides tutors and equipment, and it’s always wise to pre-register. For the Charlton event, send an email to: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For Hopkinton, contact: Lawrenceofwoodville@gmail.com.
The ice should be thick enough Saturday to support a fully fueled Apollo rocket; the MassWildlife folks emphasize safety first and foremost in all things outdoors. You won’t be out there if the experts aren’t sure of the footing.
How you deal with the cold once out there, well, you’re on your own. Some very serious hard-surface anglers camp out for the day with portable huts and heaters. A couple of pals I spoke with mentioned flasks and whiskey as essential tools more often than they mentioned rod and reel. I’d say it’s whatever floats your boat, but it’s ice fishing, so there’s no boat and the float’s as hard as a rock.
“I don’t think you can knock it until you have tried it,’’ said Hromada, acknowledging that pals at work suggest his ice cravings are crazy. “If you like to be outside and you like just the fresh air and the cold weather . . . you will like ice fishing. It’s a nice day out.’’
Hromada spent the better part of five hours at Silver Lake that Sunday morning and was thrilled to have landed (and released) one prized bass, weighing upward of 3 pounds. He said he was after the lake’s granddaddy, a bass so big, by Hromada’s telling, that he cared not to discuss it in great detail. The more he talked, and the less he cared to share, call me Ishmael, but I had visions of Moby-Dick cracking the surface.
Now that would have been something. Moby-Dick. On a picture-perfect New England day, with men ice fishing, and kids skating and sledding. What a whopper.
“I’ll tell everyone the big one got away,’’ I promised Hromada as we both packed up in the parking lot.
Not the right thing to say to a proud fisherman.
“No, don’t say that,’’ he said.
“Then I’ll tell them it was so big that you had him hooked but couldn’t pull him through the hole.’’
“Yeah,’’ he said. “That’s better.’’
It’s ice fishing, but the truth needn’t always be cold.