"There's something not quite right with you!?!?!" and thus started an interesting conversation with my Dad, one blustery Saturday afternoon while ice fishing. Inquiring, with the slightest bit of hesitation, I asked, "Why would you say that?" The old man took a deep breath and then started in on his tirade . . . "Well, you and your friends layer up in all this newfangled super insulated clothing, and then proceed to sit out in the middle of the lake all day long, in weather conditions not fit for man nor beast, then at lunch time, you heathens chow down a can of sardines, a couple little Debbie snack cakes and call it a meal!?! Lastly, if you do manage to catch a fish you take it home and throw it in the freezer where it may not get eaten for months!"
At that point, I stared blankly at the old man trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with the series of events he had just relayed.
Clearly exasperated, the old man took another deep breath and continued . . . "I taught you better than that! Don't you remember all those times fishing pickerel ponds as a kid? Don't you remember warming frozen toes and fingers on a warm lake side fire? Don't you remember eating freshly caught fish wrapped in tinfoil and gently steamed on the coals of a fire? Don't you remember cooking hot chocolate in an old tea pot? AND lastly PLEASE tell me you remember eating red hotdogs and marshmallows cooked on freshly cut alder branches?"
I again stared blankly . . .
Now nearly frantic in his level of disgust, the old man staggered across the deep snow and dragged a large dead tree out of the shoreline brambles. As I drilled holes and prepared lines, he worked tirelessly to organize a sheltered "hangout" area by piling up blocks of snow to make a windbreak and constructing a small teepee of sticks to serve as the beginnings of a small fire.
Scientists have proven that the sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory and of that I am not surprised. As I finished baiting the last hook, the smell of acrid wood smoke began drifting across the hard water, bringing with it a lifetime of happy ice fishing memories that slowly began leaking back into my conscious mind.
As I walked over to the old man, I asked "Hey Dad did you bring any of those red hotdogs and marshmallows?" A wide smile appeared on the old man’s face, "Certainly" said Dad, "I thought you would never ask."
I wanted to share this story as it really is interesting how ice fishing has changed tremendously from my Dad's generation to mine. He and his friends were without snowmobiles and ice augers, they would hike up to 5 miles through deep snow to access good ice fishing waters. They enjoyed only tea (who can walk 5 miles with a buzz-on!) and ate almost everything that they caught fresh from the icy waters over a blazing lake side fire. When I compare that to our "modern" ice fishing lifestyle, I begin to feel a little bit disgusted with myself and what I have allowed to be stolen from the enjoyment of this great outdoor activity. With eyes now open, I vow to make more of a concerted effort this season to embrace the "old" ways and make sure these excellent traditions and treasured memories are passed on to my children!
I had believed for many years that a fire on the ice was not permissible under Maine law. A review of the Maine statutes and an email to the Maine warden service
proves my belief incorrect. Maine’s revised statute on open burning (9325) reads that “open burning without permit is permissible on frozen bodies of water, when not prohibited by state rule, local ordinance or water utility regulation and as long as no nuisance is created.” The Maine warden service reports that “a fire on the ice is permissible except when specifically prohibited such as on water supplies. Litter left behind is generally what creates the greatest issue, such as beer cans and other non-burning materials.”
Ultimately, according to the law and law enforcers, if ice fishermen are not on a regulated water supply and remain responsible, there is no reason why a warming/cooking fire on the ice cannot be built.
Now before heading for the shoreline to collect firewood to build a raging bonfire, please make sure you are acquainted with the law on the frozen body of water on which you are fishing and even more importantly, be prepared to follow good sporting ethics when building a fire on ice. Remember that every shoreline belongs to someone, so being respectful and thoughtful should be high on everyone’s priority list.
Being responsible means keeping fires at a manageable and easily controllable size. Fires should not be constructed in close proximity to camps and other shoreline structures. Wood for fires should either be brought in or deadwood salvaged from shorelines. Live trees should never be cut and bark should never be stripped from trees and unless in very remote areas, even dead trees should be left standing. Most of the time, a small cooking/warming fire can be constructed from driftwood and dead branches salvaged from 3-400 yards of shoreline.
For the uninitiated, building a fire on the ice is an act in futility unless the person first understands a couple critical construction details. First heat from the fire melts the surrounding ice creating steam that makes starting a fire and keeping it going almost impossible. Secondly, a pool of water forms directly under the fire pit, due to the heat from the fire melting the surrounding snow and ice, this also will eventually extinguish the fire. Before building a fire on the ice, first create a platform of wooden logs on which the fire sits. Doing this eliminates both the issues discussed above.