“I think I’ll take the kids ice fishing this weekend.”
“Okay. Sounds good. I’ll go with you.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “Waaait…Why do you want to go?”
“I haven’t been in a while and I thought I’d go again. You know. It’s good to try things.” I tried to say it innocently.
“It’s for the blog, isn’t it?”
“Of course it’s for the blog. Don’t be ridiculous. Why else would I go?”
Big deep dark confession time: I don’t like ice fishing. It’s such a huge part of the Maine wintertime scene, it’s embarrassing to admit that I don’t get it. But I don’t get it. It’s the opposite of what I like to do in the winter, which is to do something vigorous outside and then go enjoy the sensation of warming up and resting inside. Hanging around on a wind-whipped, icy lake for hours, frozen fingers, frozen toes, waiting for a little flag to pop up so that maybe you’ll find a fish that may or may not be big enough to keep for dinner that you then need to gut and cook… Ugh. No.
But the kids love it. Both of them. Even though there is nothing exciting or comfortable in our set up. We don’t have a fancy insulated ice shack with a woodstove, comfy seating, and a cribbage board waiting. We don’t even have camp chairs, a Jet Sled, and a nice pack basket. We have a handful of traps stashed in an old five gallon mortar bucket, a used hand auger, and a kid’s sled that was rejected for being “too slow” on the hills. That’s it. That’s our entire ice fishing kit.
Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm is showing through in my description. Am I selling it?
Anyway, I went this weekend so I could report faithfully on the ice-fishing-with-kids experience. It was pretty much what I expected: a mix of fishing, child distraction techniques and exploring, complaining (not all of it mine), and cold.
Here are some of the things I learned from three hours on the ice:
1) Don’t be wedded to the big catch. The kids don’t seem to care that much whether a fish is a keeper. They just want to catch something. They just want some action. I quickly abandoned my hope of catching dinner and instead learned to embrace the nibbles, the little guys, the throwbacks. It was a good time to teach some basic conservation ethos: “This guy needs some more time to grow up and get a bit bigger. We’ll let him go until next year.” It was also a good time to teach some classic jokes: “It’s not called ‘catching,’ remember. It’s called ‘fishing.’ Get it?! Ahahaha…where are you going?”
2) Don’t be wedded to the flag. Traps are certainly convenient but they are also boring. So boring. I do not have the patience for staring endlessly at a bunch of flags that simply refuse to pop up. I’m glad my husband brought along a couple of rods so we could try some jigging to liven things up a bit. Busy kids are happy kids. [Note: I personally also found jigging boring, but in a meditative way whereas traps were boring in a “why doesn’t anything HAPPEN” way. The difference is slight, but it is sanity-saving.]
3) Don’t get wedded to your site. Move around. Drill some new holes. Try a different spot. Go and visit with the neighbors (ours had both chairs AND a fire, not that I’m bitter). Chat with the inevitable ranger or warden. Ice fishing is a community sport, so go create some community. [Note: I actually didn’t go talk to the neighbors because I was afraid I’d never want to leave their fire. This meant I that when I finally yelled “FLAG! FLAG!” it turned out I was talking to myself.]
4) Don’t be wedded to the fishing. Kids getting antsy? Nothing biting, despite your best efforts? Time to find something else to do. When the wind picked up and patience dropped, my son and I walked over to the dam on the other side of the pond and checked out the ice build-up. Then we had a lively debate about whether a set of prints with clear tail drag was otter or beaver (I looked it up later: otter. He was right). We kicked our way through the powder as he “tracked” our footprints back across the pond. Later I sent the kids off to build a fairy house at the edge of the woods. In between they filled some time dragging each other around in the sled while pretending to be huskies and scooping the ice out of the holes.
So what’s verdict? What did I learn? Simple. Ice fishing is just like typical fishing, in that the fishing isn’t really the point. It’s all the other things that happen around the fishing–the hanging out, the fresh air, the watching wildlife, the simple entertainments–that make it a good time. Exactly the same, just, you know, 50 to 70 degrees colder. That last sentence sounded more encouraging in my head.
Will I go ice fishing again? Sure. Probably. Maybe. If it’s warm enough, not windy and I’m not too tempted by the few hours of a quiet house that I could have instead. But the kids? They are definitely going again.
I’ll have some warm cookies and hot chocolate waiting for them when they get home.