Putting it on ice

Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2015
My first ice fishing lesson didn’t end with a giant lake trout on my hook.

Or on my plate.

The only fish I managed to land was a tiny minnow, which I used as bait after shoving a hook through the little guy’s head.

“It doesn’t hurt. They can take a lot, these poor minnows,” said Jessie Tichko, my volunteer instructor. We were at the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, a regional draw for anglers who spent the weekend presumably doing what I couldn’t – catching fish.

The lesson was the second installment in my “Bucket List” series.

My snowboarding trip last month was about trying something I had been avoiding for years; ice fishing just sounded cool.

It had been explained to me by more than one person as an excuse to drink beer on a frozen lake which, even though it isn’t true, would have been enough to pique my interest.

But I had an enjoyable afternoon, and people in Meredith sold me on the concept of ice fishing as a way to get outside and connect with nature during the harshest winter months.

Both ice fishing and freshwater fishing were new to me – the idea of throwing back most of what you caught seemed weird.

I prefer catching it, cutting it up, cooking it and putting it on a plate so I can eat it.

I was confident because I’d grown up on the Rhode Island coast and have had some success catching fluke and sea bass in Block Island Sound.

Plus, I was, like, 15 years older than the second oldest person participating in the class. The lesson was offered through the state Fish and Game Department’s “Let’s Go Fishing” program. The class was free and one of many offered during winter.

Jessie, an expert angler, was patient with me. She smiled through most of my ridiculous questions and walked me through the instructions (many of which she had just finished giving but I had already forgotten).

Using an auger, instructors cleared out a perfect hole in the ice. I used a big plastic spoon to scoop little ice chunks from my fishing hole.

After plunking a weight on my line to figure out how deep the water was, I hooked my minnow, dropped my line and set my flag.

The hope was that, at some point, I’d scramble across the ice yelling, “flag,” and everyone else would come over to see what I had caught.

This never happened.

It hadn’t been a fruitful day for the beginner anglers. Fish aren’t dumb, remarked the guy standing next to me. They hear the surface noise – the rumbling of snowmobiles and ATVs and constant footsteps – and hunker down until it ends.

It’s anyone’s guess if this is why I didn’t catch anything, but it sounded logical enough.

Whatever, I thought. I’d landed fish before, and if someone was going to catch a fish during this class, it was going to be me.

Monitor photographer Liz Frantz and I waited around for a while. I checked out a bob house and occasionally peered into my fishing hole. We never got a bite, but it wasn’t a huge deal.

It was all good.

Next time, even if I don’t catch anything, at least I’ll know how to ice fish.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)