Readers may recall my bemoaning the fact that we don’t get snowy, old-fashioned winters anymore.
In December, I wrote about black powder hunting and how in the “good old days,” we deer hunted on snowshoes. A couple of days later, we got clobbered with nearly two feet of snow. I then received comments like: “You got what you wanted Chague, thanks a lot!”
Then in January, I bemoaned the fact that lately, our ice fishing seasons are too short because of climate change (warm winters) and asked for January freezes. A week after that, it got seriously cold around here and the ice formed rapidly and may still be there. On March 16, there was still over 15 inches of ice in some of our lakes.
It seemed like more people got out ice fishing this year, probably because they were sick of being shut-ins due to COVID-19 and took to the outdoors. Some people who gave up the sport years ago took it back up again. However, the COVID also had a negative effect on ice fishing as most derbies were cancelled. Organizers just didn’t want to get people congregated together and become spreaders.
There are those who question the ice fishermen’s sanity. How can you sit out on a frozen lake all day? Have you frozen or numbed your minds? Don’t you get cold or bored? The answer is, no! It doesn’t get any better!
The following are some of the highlights that my group of 10 or so ice fishermen experienced this year. Most mornings, we enjoyed absolutely beautiful sun rises, with colors of salmon pink. After we cut our holes and baited our tip-ups, it was time for breakfast. Stan Kordana, Dan Miraglia or John Bassi usually took care of that by making egg sandwiches cooked on our grills. Someone usually brings venison for lunch. Mark Lucier, Stan Kordana, Brian Kordana, Rick Saldo and Ed Bertelli kept us pretty well fed with venison stews, chilis, tenderloin tips and burgers. My nephew Joe Chague and I brought additional hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage links. The last time we got out, John brought filet mignon to grill. After dining, someone inevitably remarks, “The food is good here, I think I’ll come back and dine here again.”
Other memorable times this year were: We were nearby when Jamie Pollard caught that 15 ½-pound brown trout out of Stockbridge Bowl. We could see and hear them hooting and hollering over the catch. During the season, a couple of us hooked really large trout, but they either got off or they broke the line. I’ll never forget one of our guys hooked a large brown trout at Richmond Pond and he had the fish up to the hole with its head out of the water. As the ice fisherman stepped back to heft the fish out, he stepped on a loose piece of ice and went “arse over teakettle” and landed on his back, unhurt. The sudden pull on the line as he went down enabled the fish to escape. It was actually a graceful fall — wish I had my camera. He went back to that same spot again a few days later, but that fish wouldn’t fall for the bait again.
Then there was the time when we were fishing Richmond Pond a week ago when the weather got up into the 60s. We got onto the ice with no problems, but during the day with the warm temperatures, the ice thawed along the edges of the lake, in spite of over 15 inches of ice further out on the pond. Getting off was a different matter and I’ll never forget it. Just as I took my last step from the ice to the shore, the ice broke under my foot and there I was standing in about a foot and a half of water. With my boots filling up with water, I hurriedly pulled my sled ashore, but not before the motorized ice augur fell off of the sled into the water also. It was completely submerged. No damage done, though, for when I got home, it started right up again.
Then there was the time when we were entertained by an airplane doing landings and take offs on the ice at Stockbridge Bowl. Instead of wheels, the plane was equipped with skis. On another day at that same lake, we were entertained watching Frank Wall of Ghent, New York skimming along the lake in his ice boat. We saw him on several different occasions and on the windy days, that thing really moved. Just last week, on Richmond Pond, John and I threw a small perch onto the ice a little distance from us and watched a bald eagle swoop down and grab it.
This year, there were a couple of weeks with ice without snow cover. You had to wear studs or spikes on your boots in order to walk. Because of the lack of snow on bare ice, the wind would occasionally blow our folding chairs across the ice. Now that’s a comical sight, watching a fellow chase his empty chair across the lake trying to catch it. Perhaps the most unusual sight of the season was watching Jim from the Chatham (N.Y.) Unicycle Club peddling around Stockbridge Bowl on his unicycle. The tire on it was studded so that it didn’t slip on the slick ice. After 70 years of ice fishing, I never saw that before.
Bored? You’ve got to be kidding me!
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. It was a good, long season and my friends and I are done for this year.
Getting back to the Chatham Unicycle Club (firstname.lastname@example.org), if you are interested, it has indoor and outdoor practice sessions, Unicycle Hockey, group rail trail and group mountain unicycling rides. Although drastically curtailed this past year, they have started to resume activities. The practice sessions are suitable for all levels and they have a bunch of unicycles to try.
A UNIQUE IDEA REGARDING MASSWILDLIFE’S PROPOSED LICENSE FEE BUMP
I recently received a letter from an active local hiker in response to my recent articles about reduced revenue coming in from anglers and hunters and the proposed hike in licensing fees. This person suggested a partial solution that would provide some equity in the “pay as you go” recreation sector and would help generate revenue for managing open spaces and in particular Fisheries and Wildlife lands. This hiker suggests that hikers and other passive recreation users (bikers, runners, horseback riders, skiers) of public lands might willingly participate in a permitting process through a yearly purchased pass to use trails.
Most users understand that purchasing open space and managing the lands has become costly for F&W and that current revenues don’t meet what is needed to create and maintain sustainable trails.
How broad and deep support is for this idea could be assessed by creating a survey for hiker/biker/skier groups. Some could choose to pay a higher fee to support free permits for lower income users or students etc. Since numbers of outdoor recreationists have increased substantially these past years, the fee could be set low. People are now used to getting online tickets in advance for everything from skiing to museums so the process wouldn’t be difficult for users to manage.
Issues like administration and compliance would have to be worked out as well as the incorporation of a mandate that funds generated go into state park or F&W budgets and not general funds. Certainly, education and peer pressure would need to play a role. But if licensing can be done for anglers and hunters, a variation on that can be developed for other user groups. This hiker feels the time has come for all users to pay their fair share of supporting F&W and public lands and believes there is strong support for that to happen.
We thank the writer for that letter. Its nice to know that she and other non-hunters and fishers are sympathetic to our plight and want to help.