Columns » Ranger Rich

Frivolity on the ice

Ranger Rich



If you're a guy and often find yourself shouting, "Goddammit! My nose, feet and testicles are always too hot," I have two words that might help.

Ice fishing.

On a related note, I'd also guess you don't get invited to a lot of poetry readings, and security guards frequently escort you out of Chuck E. Cheese's.

But let's stick to ice fishing, a sport guaranteed to cool down a bunch of nuts faster than air conditioning at a Republican presidential candidate debate. (Except for mistress-loving superstud Newt Gingrich, who apparently cannot be cooled down, and I have now made myself sick.)

Anyway, my ice-fishing career began when I was just a boy, when I and a few red-blooded adolescent male friends would walk out onto frozen ponds in New England, chisel rough holes through the ice, lower a bait and then spend the entire day thinking about sex.

I've ice-fished in Massachusetts and Maine and on New Hampshire's gigantic Lake Winnipesaukee, a Native American word meaning, literally, "I cannot feel my pesaukee."

My father took me on those early trips to New Hampshire, actually driving his Mercury automobile out onto the ice, swearing profusely as he waited for the ice to break.

Dad would determine the best place to stop by using a complex formula involving fish migration routes, moon phases, the location of an underwater structure that would hold baitfish, and how far a 12-year-old kid could swim in icy water while dragging his screaming 200-pound father.

Once, and I'm not kidding about this, we caught a 5-pound landlocked Atlantic salmon, fish that are, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game Dept. laws, illegal to keep during the winter season and must be quickly released. My father apparently misread that part of the fish handbook and thought it said salmon "must be quickly stuffed inside your heavy coat and nervously placed in the trunk of your car."

When I reminded him of the actual law, Dad, quite aware that he was a mentor and role model and was molding a young boy's character, put an arm around my shoulder, looked at me with his soft eyes and said, "Shut the hell up and mind your own business, for chrissakes."

I ice-fished relentlessly as a youth and even found time to ice-fish when I was in college, venturing onto rock-solid ponds in 20-below-zero, beyond-frigid Wisconsin. This, in terms of outdoor sports and the risk of hypothermia, leaves most of you asking the obvious question: "You went to college?"

My pursuit of fish through the ice was halted for 16 years when I lived in Los Angeles. (I did, however, replicate ice fishing's frigid and often-lonely feeling by having a brief marriage.)

In 1993 I moved to Colorado and rekindled my passion for shuffling out onto frozen lakes in mind-numbing cold and wind to catch fish that I don't eat. Today, though, I have a gas-powered ice auger instead of a chisel, a pop-up shelter to ward off the wind and a fancy electronic sonar fish-finding device that lets you know when the big one swims beneath you.

Several times each winter a few friends join me for an icy adventure on Elevenmile Reservoir, an hour up Highway 24 just past the town of Lake George. My wife (I now have a much better one) joined me once or twice during our early days together, a relationship phase before her realization that just because I'm an idiot she didn't have to become one, too.

On one of those days, as we pulled alongside the shoreline, the temperature reading on my SUV's dashboard digital thermometer said it was 22 degrees below zero.

"We're going back home, right?" Susie asked.

I reassured her it would warm up later — when June rolled around, you should have seen that I-told-you-so-look I shot her — and out we went onto the ice, where I found the perfect spot based on the moon phase, fish migratory patterns and the underwater structure that would hold baitfish.

And close enough to shore that a small, angry woman would be able to drag her screaming 200-pound husband through the icy water.

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