Does It Get Much Better Than Ice Fishing?

It is that time of year again when the ice fishermen dominate the landscape of Chautauqua Lake. (My definition of these individuals also includes women who fish through the ice.)

Many of them are the same as those who fish by boat in the summertime but, in my view, ice fishermen are in many ways a special breed. Some of what they do is about catching fish, but a lot of what they do is about tangling with the elements and the ice.

There are a few loners who come with their five-gallon bucket which is used as a seat, a container to carry equipment, and a grocery bag to carry fish home if they get lucky. They sit by themselves, with their back against the wind–the way cows do in a rainstorm in the summer. They might say “hi” to a passing fisherman but they don’t divulge their deep secrets of what they are catching or how.

However, most ice fishermen come in two’s, three’s or four’s. They don’t seem to talk a lot but there is mutual reinforcement when you can bounce off your buddy the depth at which you got a bite or what lure might be working best. Or, if you are fishing with one of your kids, then there is the satisfaction of knowing that you are passing on something of life-long value. Elemental and simple conversation is best on the ice. It is probably not a place to talk much about religion or politics.

Unlike fishing in the summer, there is no boat noise or boom boxes with music blaring from a ski boat. There is just the sky, the wind and the ice. It is quiet and awe-inspiring for the most part. As the ice gets thicker, a snow mobile or two may come down the lake. But, they are usually just passing through and not serious intruders.

I have noticed a few changes over the years. There are more multi-colored pop-up tents to block the wind out on the ice. There are also changes wrought by electronic fish-finders. An ice fisherman newly arrived may wander around a bit digging holes in the ice looking for fish beneath the surface with one of these. However, if he is here for a second day, he may well walk in a straight line using a GPS device to the exact place he was fishing the day prior where he had already found fish. There is probably a good chance the fish are still there.

There are a couple of unchanging things about ice fishing. If numbers of fishermen mean anything, dusk still seems the preferred time to fish. A spouse waiting at home may have to delay dinner until after the sun goes down and her fisherman gets off the lake.

And then there is the walleye–still the tastiest and most preferred fish to catch. There is nothing like the savory taste of fresh walleye taken from the lake, and the good news is that there are still plenty of them being caught.

A cold, clear day turning to night with an almost limitless horizon of sky while catching a walleye through a hole in the ice that you have cut yourself…how does it get any better than that?

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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