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Photo by Clea G. Hall

Photo by Clea G. Hall

Women Take to the Ice, Ice Fishing from a Different Perspective

By Melanie Houck

Friday, February 4, 2011

You’ve probably driven by Lake George in the past few weeks and seen the ice covered with tiny black dots of humanity and you wonder, what are they thinking?  Leaving warm homes in the coldest days of winter to test fate on what appears to be treacherous ice?  And yet it seems that every bay and every parking area is full of these lunatics.   I’ve been ice fishing for a few years now and some days we DO sit out there, wind whipping against our backs, fingers dangerously cold, with nary a bite all day.  And on THOSE days, I do wonder if maybe I am a bit loony.  Other days, like January 23rd of this year, are the best us freaks on the ice could hope for; fish biting, and friends having a great time.  Those days are what keep us coming back.    I am honored to be able to share why I love ice fishing and to encourage other women; it’s definitely worth a try.

On January 23, four of those black dots included my husband Roger and me and two of our good friends, Dan and Esther.  Dan is an avid ice fisherman, but Esther, his wife, was trying it for the first time.

Once we hiked out to our spot, we immediately began to work.   The guys head out to set the Lake Trout tip ups, and Esther and I set up a base camp unpacking the gear and setting up the shanty: our shelter from the elements.  We all have a job to do.

Deciding where to drill our holes involves a tiny bit of skill and knowledge of the lake and quite a bit of luck. “We listen to our hearts and go with our gut instinct on where the Perch are” I tell her, with auger in hand, as I share with her one of our many traditions.

“Mm here…no wait…here!”  Esther skips over a few feet to a snow covered spot just like any other on the huge mile-wide expanse.  Laughing, we proceed to try to drill the hole together.  I put as much weight as I can onto the top handle of the auger, as she yanks the side handle around and around with all her petite 5’3” might.

Finally, auger blades cut through the 7 inches of ice.  It wouldn’t have taken quite so long if we weren’t laughing so hard!  We spare merely a moment to catch our breath, before getting our jig poles ready to go down our holes.  Meanwhile the guys have finished their sets for Lake Trout and also seek out their own lucky perch spot.  As we jig, I say another silent prayer, pleading that today would be the day Esther would catch her first Lake Trout.

We get our lines down our holes, and settle down on buckets waiting for the first bite.  Not even two minutes pass and Esther squeals, reeling her 30’ of line as fast as she can go.  “I got one!”  She cries.  A tiny fish pops out of the cold water. Her first perch!  “Ooh, they are very pretty,” she murmurs, closely examining the seven inch yellow and green stripped fish.  “And they are yummy too,” I smile as I reel in my own first catch of the day.  We began reeling them in steady.  I was thrilled to know that THIS was going to be one of those days, and maybe Esther wouldn’t be questioning our sanity after all.  It was not long before our bucket of keepers was getting heavy; significantly heavier than the guy’s buckets a few yards away.  We point out this fact just in case the guys have not noticed. It just wouldn’t be right without a little friendly competition.

I look up from my jigging and my breath catches for just an instant as I see the most beautiful sight; sure, there are snow covered mountains and an incredible, crisp, landscape but more importantly there is an orange marker waving!    “Flag!”  I yelled, and Esther and I take off towards the tip up, laughing and clapping our hands with anticipation.  The guys walk at a much slower, ‘cooler’ pace.  Silly guys and their emotional restraint.  There’s no holding back for us!

Tip ups consist of a spool with up to 200 feet of line attached to a wooden apparatus designed to sit over a hole.  If a fish takes the bait, a mechanism trips a bright orange flag which pops up alerting us of the fish biting.

“Fish On! That’s definitely a Laker!” We are all sitting around the hole now, eagerly watching the line zipping out at a rapid speed.  “Get ready Esther.”  Roger grabs the top of the tip up and Esther reaches out to grab the line to start pulling the fish in.  I suck in my breath, thankful for this action and praying that it’s a big one.  Esther begins bringing in the line, while Dan tries to keep it untangled.  The fish took a LOT of line out.  After five minutes the fish came close to the hole.  A glint of silver and a large mouth flashes in view and then it swims for deep water again.  “Oh Esther, that’s a good one!”  Like an expert, Esther patiently lets the fish take line then slowly brings it back, doing this several times until the fish tires.  Finally, it stays still just below the surface of the hole.  It is within our grasp!

Roger quickly pulls it out, and we have a nice 26 inch, 6 pound Laker, brought in by none other than our first timer!  Esther and I are ecstatic.  We high-five and jump with joy.   I get a huge kick out of watching this tiny girl wearing the coveralls of someone way over 6 feet, jumping up and down with glee, squealing and clapping her sleeve covered  hands. I can see the transition, and my heart soars.  Up to this very moment, I was nervous, worried that she would regret my dragging her out onto a frozen lake rather than shopping down at the outlets as we are known to do.  Esther proudly holds her fish up for the picture she will no doubt treasure.  She beckons me over to join her, and together we hold the fish up, laughing away.  “Talk about a beautiful fish,” I say, as I feel it’s slimy, icy, colorful skin.  “You know, we make a pretty good team.  You saw the flag, and I brought it in.  That’s some awesome girl power right there,” and we share a victorious giggle together.   So what do you think of ice fishing now, I asked. “I’m hooked, so to speak,” she replied with a smile that we all knew would mean she would be dragging Dan out on a frozen lake as soon as the next opportunity came up!

Melanie Houck is a free lance writer living in Brant Lake

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