...to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free....

30 January, 2012

ice shanties, big pike...and a surprise

This is the view from my doctor's office.
Not too shabby, huh?
I delivered a form there last week,
and I noticed that despite the warm-ish weather this winter,
there were ice fishing shanties downriver a bit.

Today I decided to check them out up close
and personal.

Please note the blue (open) water in the foreground.
It really has been warm here, 
and I was surprised to see these 'camps' on the ice.

Please also note the person to the left out on the ice all alone.
He fits into the story as the surprise.

Meet James.
He was walking off the ice as I arrived.
He was getting ready to leave,
and just then his friend Matt arrived in a local construction truck,
to see what was happening on the river.

Having no idea in the world who he was,
I went right up to James and his friend 
and started asking questions anyway.
He was pleasant and funny (laughed at my jokes, that is)--
and then all of a sudden we both stopped and
looked at each other a little more closely...
and realized we'd known each other almost all his life.

James lived in the farm house just down the road from us
when he was growing up.
My daughter babysat for him and his younger brother.
His family members were always the best of neighbors
when we lived on the road.
Although I watched James grow up, go to high school 
and then leave for college,
it never occurred to me that he was the man
standing next to me explaining his 
fishing gear.

Small world.

James and Matt took this rather daft older woman
onto the ice, lending their arms,
showing me the 'ropes', introducing me to another fisherman,
making sure I didn't slip--
or miss the eagles flying overhead.

I'd like to share with you what I saw and learned
from these two kind young men today.

This sled was what James was pulling off the ice.
It has all he needed for the several hours he was
fishing on the river this morning.
I think the pail was for his catch.
There were hunks of fish in the plastic bag
(I thought they were bananas, but they were bait.)
The wooden items under his gloves 
are the 'traps'--these go over the hole in the ice
and they support the fishing lines.
The major attraction in the sled is the auger.
James drilled through 10" of ice this morning
with that auger.  
You might be able to see it has a motor
not unlike an outboard boat motor.
Used to be, people drilled the ice by hand.

James and Matt took me out to where he had been fishing.
Here's Matt's foot,
showing a fishing hole and using his shoe
for perspective.
He broke through a small veneer of ice with his heel
so I could get the full effect.

These next two photos are of the fish James caught today.
He was hoping for something tasty
but these pike are what he caught.
He left them out on the ice for the eagles 
that live on the river year round.
They were flying overhead as we were out there talking.

We don't like pike, apparently.
They are predator fish, laying in wait
for smaller fish.  They are very fierce,
have several rows of sharp teeth, 
and jaws like a shark, says Matt.
Besides, they are bony and not good to eat.
(The Gatorade is for perspective.)

I thought they were beautiful, despite their reported ferocity.

If you spend a goodly time in the dead of winter
sitting in a tiny shack staring at a hole in the ice,
and hoping to catch some smelt,
you probably hope to find lots of pike
out of the water waiting to feed the eagles.

I'll spare you the shot of the half eaten one.
These guys were behind another fishing shack.
Someone who likes smelt better than
pike, and who has a sense of twisted humor
put a smelt in each of their mouths.

The typical smelt fisherman can't wait for "ice-in,"
and lives for the time when
the ice is thick enough to support
the small shack from which he fishes.

Most of them are tiny.  As they say around here,
"not big enough to swing a cat".
Room for a chair or two,
a propane heater, or a wood stove.
and maybe a warming beverage or two.
(Meaning someone should be the designated driver.)

They set their lines, then visit each other,
talk fish and the weather and who knows what.
And every once in awhile a line jiggles
and the hauling out begins.
The fish come in with the tide
(these rivers are tidal around here)
and when they run, everyone gets busy.

They say they aren't running too good this year so far.
(More reason to bring up a few pike
for the eagles.)

Kenny let me look into the shack he shares with Dick.
The other wall is just to the left.  I mean just.
The blue panel is the insulation
that covers the race (a rectangular hole along the wall)
when nobody is fishing.
That way it doesn't take too much picking to open it up again.

Here's part of the race along the wall across from the chairs.
Very close to the chairs.

Above the race is the bracket that holds the lines.

Each one is baited, and dropped into the water.
Then, you wait.
Cook an omelet or heat up some soup.
Chew the fat.
Wait for the run.
Love it so much you can't wait for next winter to come again
after the ice melts in the spring.

Along the opposite wall, just above the chairs,
is the propane that feeds the heaters and keeps humans
from turning into blocks of ice.
(That is, if the alcohol fails to do that.
That's why there's alcohol.
No other reason.)

James told me that each shack has to have
the name and address of its owner on it.
That's in case the ice melts before the shack is removed.
If it goes to the bottom,
the warden will know whom to contact
to bring it back up again.

Some shacks are very basic.

Some are ornamental.

I just know there's a missus who fishes here.
Windows let in the cold.
But how else would you be able to hang curtains?

This one was my favorite.
No bigger than a privy, but made with love and care.

The view upriver.
(My doc's office is in that yellow and brown house
next to the mill.)

I'm going back again some night to see what's happening then.
If I can get any good shots, I'll let you know.

Thanks for coming along today!


  1. Fantastic post. That's what I so love about blogging and following blogs - these glimpses into life as lived elsewhere. Here in the UK it's rarely cold enough for rivers to freeze at all, let alone for the ice to be thick enough to bear a person's weight.

    1. Perpetua, you are kind. I love the same things about blogging--proximity to a life that is not yours, feeding dreams of visiting, creating visions of another way of life. Thanks for your visit and your reply! ;o)

  2. i loved this. loved that the strangers you went up to were not strangers at all. and then showed you around and introduced you to others and to their 'life on ice'. what a great post!

    1. Thanks, Theresa! Blogging has given me a legitimate excuse for being the nosy person I always wanted to be. What tickles me most is how very nice people are. And, in a town like this, the frequent "I know you"s like this one and the one back last March about maple sugaring. Seems like you either meet an old friend or make a new one! ;o)

  3. Mike, thanks for the tour! Such fun! Even to run into a old acquaintance! I glad the boys leave the Pike for the eagles. They need it more than we! Although you can it them, they aren't the best. I envy the boys their little shacks. We never used to have things like that. Just used to sit out in the open and endue the cold as best one could!

    1. Sitting out in the open all morning is what James was doing, too, Robin. I asked him why he didn't have a shack, and he replied that was too permanent a situation for him--he likes to fish where impulse sends him. Ah, to be young!! Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice note... good memories were kindled for you--I'm glad. ;o)

  4. This was a perfect post for a winter's day, even if it is unseasonably warm at 52 degrees here in Chicagoland! Such a chance encounter and all that it led to, Mike. My only view of an ice shack was from Grumpy Old Men, so, this is a great introduction - and my-oh-my, you covered everything. I like the red shack as well. It looks like the doorknob is the shape of a fish.

    My dad used to catch smelt off of Lake Michigan in early spring. It was the one fish my mom would let us eat as the bones were so small. She was always worried we would choke, as moms are wont to do at times.

    Thanks for the little adventure tour. Great post.

    1. So glad you liked it, Penny! I'm tickled that this post reminded you of your dad and mom and the only fish she'd let you eat. In Maine in the winter, we locals mostly eat lots of small fish. Not only is there smelt, but also the tiniest but sweetest shrimp sold out of trucks by the roadside in the dead of January. The doorknob of the red shack is, indeed, a perfect wooden fish. Love it! ;o)

  5. Now that's pretty cool! I would say they are dedicated fishermen!

    1. That's one way of putting it, Kerri! Dedicated to the fishing, to the getting out of the house in winter, to the fellowship, to winter itself--dedicated, all around! ;o)

  6. Hello, and thanks for visiting my blog yesterday. I appreciate the story you shared.

    As to your posting today, it takes me back to my 36 years in Stillwater. It's the oldest town in Minnesota and sits in a valley right across from Wisconsin. The wide St. Croix River separates the two. Every winter, the television meteorologists tell viewers each day if the ice is thick enough on the Minnesota lakes and rivers to walk on.

    If so, the ice house/fish houses appear one by one, hauled out into the middle of the river with trucks. Then every March/April television tells us again that the ice is no longer safe. Ah, I miss those days. And this posting, with its marvelous photographs and its text that introduces us to two ice fishermen surely took me back to Minnesota. Thank you.


    1. And thanks to you, Dee, for the story you just shared. This is blogging at its best! ;o)

  7. Oh, what a wonderful post, Mike. So much about ice fishing I never knew. Excellent!

    1. Oh, Kate--that means a lot coming from you. I am thinking about you today as I consider the first anniversary of my blog. It wouldn't have gone the same way without your steady support and encouragement. "Meeting" you and getting to know you in blog-land has been one of the biggest bonuses. Thank you, friend. ;o)

  8. JAMES!!! How funny that you ran into him. The world is huge, but apparently not so big that you can't bump into an old friend every now and then. Thanks for the inside scoop on the ice fishing. I always wondered . . .

    1. Hi, old neighbor! Yup, it was James all right. Just like you, he has grown up, big time. I've been missing your blog--your comment brought me back to your most recent post. Nice to see you back. I miss your mom, too. xo

  9. absolutely LOVED this post! That would be my hubby's dream. He is such an outdoors man. We have had our day believe me, and he does ice fish but will sit on a bucket and brave the eliments! No shanty for him. I don't believe that any lake around here would permit a permanent or even tempory fish hut. :( He would drool if I showed him ths post....what a wonderful town you live in!