By the end of an extremely long day suffering through cold temperatures without even a wind flag to show for our efforts, I was beginning to question why I had even decided to come on this particular fishing trip. The temperature had continued to fall steadily and as the clouds rolled in I knew that it was doubtful conditions would improve. It proved a laborious task, fumbling about with frozen fingers picking up traps, packing gear on pull sleds and trekking the quarter mile back to the vehicles. To say I was a little bit disheartened may have been an understatement and while I understand the sport is called “fishing” and not “catching” it was painfully obvious to me as I trudged through a blinding blizzard toward the anticipated warmth of our vehicles that something fundamental had changed in my understanding of the sport of fishing. It was at this moment that I decided to follow a new fishing mantra and start to fish like a kid again.
I was three years old when my Dad took me ice fishing for the first time on a small body of water in Washington County called Vose Pond. It is a small pickerel pond a short snowmobile ride from my childhood home and hot fishing action could always be guaranteed as long as you had something to use to bait your hooks. Through my youth, I had enjoyed many an outing with my family ice fishing on various pickerel, bass and perch ponds throughout the northeastern parts of Maine. Some of my fondest memories were of outings on Conic Lake.
As I grew older, I began to move beyond this “childish” degree of ice fishing and instead of wanting to catch lots of fish I decided that I would rather only catch one or perhaps none at all. This practice of mine to suffer through hours of fishing for that one glimmer of hope at actually catching something continued for years and years until that one faithful Saturday and my childhood memories of ice fishing transported me back to a simpler time when ice fishing wasn’t about trophy’s it was about the number of flags.
Once the gear was packed in our trucks we began to formulate our plan of attack for the next day of fishing. “Same spot same time tomorrow?” came the familiar query from my friends. “No way!” came my very unfamiliar reply. “What, my friends exclaimed, you don’t want to catch the big one?” “No, I replied I have something else in mind . . . meet me tomorrow around 9:00 AM at the landing on Lower Togus Pond.”
That evening I watched the weather report and noted that the winds would be straight out of the north and that the temperature would continue to be in the twenties. Planning ahead of this forecast I packed a few additional items on my pull sled that evening in preparation for tomorrow’s ice fishing activities. Late that morning, I was met by a confused group of my friends many of whom where trying to decide if I was losing my mind and had decided to try for a state record pickerel. After discussing the game plan to the group we moved slowly around the north side of the lake to small cove I knew well from my spring bass fishing trips. This location, protected us from the high winds and also allowed us to enjoy the benefit of the sunshine as it reached high into the late morning sky late.
We immediately began drilling holes and I quietly sat back in my crazy creek chair to enjoy the show. My friends could barely get in one ice-trap when a flag would go up and they would have to run to tend it and by the time we had in all twenty traps we had 5 yellow perch, 2 bass and several pickerel on the ice. Also using a stashed axe cut some wood I started a small fire on a small rock outcropping. As my friends continued to run for flags I filleted out the fish as they were brought in to our “camp” and by 12:00 I had accumulated a sizeable amount.
It was a this time that I decided to produce a large stainless steel cook pot filled with chunks of raw potatoes and onions barely covered with water that I had sealed tight with duct tape the night before. As this concoctions was brought to a simmer I gently lay the fillets on top of the potatoes and onion and added some salt and pepper. My friends watched in amazement and a few began to drool. When the fish approached completion I added a Nalgene bottle (32 oz) of a mixture of half cream and half milk and after 5 more minutes of simmering over the open flames handed out the bowls and spoon.
As I sat there in my chair warm comfortable and filling my stomach with perhaps the best fish chowder I had ever eaten I pondered if perhaps this had been one of the best days I had ever spent ice fishing. As we all sat around the small fire busily eating my friend spoke up and asked “So next weekend we back to try for the big one?” Well, I guess that some people never learn or perhaps it is just that for some hope springs eternal and like an idiot I replied, “Sounds like a plan to me!”