Leighton Wass grew up in Southwest Harbor and graduated from Norwich University with a BS in Science Education. He taught high school biology in Vermont for 33 years and is also a freelance writer. At 79, he continues to use the outdoors as his playground. Wass lives in Adamant, Vermont, with his wife Jane and two Labradors. He has a book coming out this spring, “Fly Fishing The Hex Hatch”, published by North Country Press.
I’ve read article after article that says ice fishing is a pretty simple sport. You punch a hole in the ice, bait your line with anything from a worm to a smelt or a piece of chicken attached to some sort of trap, tilt or jig stick… and wait. It almost sounds like a bit of a routine, doesn’t it? Or as the Brits would say, a little clumsy.
I’m here to tell you that life on the ice is anything but mundane.
Take the time I was ice fishing with my brother, Stan Wass, at Jordan Pond on Mount Desert Island. I was jigging with one of those huge red and white Daredevles, and I had snagged a togue.
The fish wasn’t very big, so I opted to pull it out of the hole by pulling the line. Error. Halfway through the hole, the 5 inch lure unhooked from the togue, flew towards me, and lodged snugly in one of my nostrils. I am not joking. Once Stan was done laughing, he carefully removed the heavy lure from my sore nose.
I don’t know what it was about Jordan Pond, but the place literally swallowed and spat out a bunch of my fishing gear. Another time, one of my high school buddies, the late Bill Carroll, and I borrowed my dad’s portable cabin. It was a canvas with an interior wooden frame that folded over a pair of skis.
We could put every piece of gear on top and pull it with a rope just about anywhere. On this extremely windy day, with southerly winds, the further north we walked to the upper end of the pond, the stronger the tailwinds became.
As naive teenagers, we decided it would be fun to put up the back panel of the tent, prop it up with a piece of framing, and then trek through the slum to our destination, using wind power. of Mother Nature. Error.
For about 50 feet it looked like it would be the ride of the century. I’m sure we were screaming and screaming. Then things went wrong. A gust of wind grabbed the shack and, with no way to steer the thing, it started heading in a direction that wasn’t part of our plan.
Suddenly he knocked over – a bait bucket and all. The high winds continued to rock the shack into the pond until there was nothing left but a pile of canvas, broken skis and frames that looked like broken matches.
Did I mention this was my dad’s favorite cabin, and his only cabin?
On another trip, Jordan Pond also swallowed our only spud (chisel) through the ice. My suggestion? Go to Jordan Pond for popovers instead of ice fishing.
More recently, I was ice fishing alone on Vermont’s Lake Champlain for delicious walleye. Ice grows thickly on this lake in some places, but notorious currents can change in thickness from several feet to inches over relatively short distances.
There are also those nasty pressure ridges, often with open water on one side. Ice fishermen should know this lake well before heading out pell-mell.
Walleyes are like Maine Cusk, they generally feed more actively during low light, so staying until dark, or after, can often mean the difference between coming home with nets or not.
I was encouraged on this trip by a snowstorm which was to arrive at dusk. (A good time to fish, isn’t it?) So, I stayed out a little longer than was wise, thinking more about crusted walleye in a frying pan than about how I would come back to earth.
I had been driving on ice, and by the time I was ready to leave, it was snowing and blowing so hard that my vehicle’s lights didn’t come on at all far ahead. On top of that, the shoreline that usually provided ice guidance after dark was non-existent.
The lights of houses, barns and camps were totally obliterated by the snow. And I didn’t have a compass (pre-GPS days). It was not good.
It was nearly impossible to tell if I was heading in the right direction, and it brought visions of open water to pressure ridges or thin ice. So, I did a few things to help me out in this stupid situation.
First, I didn’t put on my seat belt. If the car went through the ice, I didn’t want to be trapped. I also crawled very slowly with the car so as not to to be surprised by an unexpected ice formation.
Also, I would stop every 100 feet or so, turn off the car, get out, and listen for voices or vehicles. At these stops I also tested the thickness of the ice with my spud. I’d like to think that my inner sense may have been plugged in as well.
Was I afraid? I was screwed. But eventually I saw some familiar lights that guided me to where I had driven on the ice several hours before.
It was a heartbreaking and humbling experience. I always carried a compass after that and never put the nets before safety again.