Sometimes when inspiration is needed to write this weekly outdoor column, it is found in a little book called “The Quotable Fisherman.”

It is a collection of quotations from a world of thoughtful anglers, some legendary and some not so legendary. From Isaak Walton and Ernest Hemingway to Ed Zern and John Gierach, each of these men and dozens of others, who were compelled to fish, found different meanings in the act of angling.

Thinking back on a recent ice fishing trip to the North Woods, this particular quotation from the book got me to ask myself a question. More about that in a minute. First, the quotation: “It’s just that the longer that I fish, the more I long for simplification and lightness.” A physician by the name of Tom Sutcliffe penned these words in his book, “Reflections On Fishing.”

Do you get his drift? Do you find yourself evolving as a fisherman? I think that I have. As a boy, a can of earthworms, a row boat and a school of perch was heaven. As a younger man, I did a lot of big-lake trolling for lakers with lead line, heavy spoons and downriggers. Spincasting for smallies kept my attention for a while.

Along the way, I was introduced to fly fishing for trout on tiny dry flies. Presto! I was hooked like a togue on sewn bait. In fact, as much as I hate to admit it (for fear of being labeled an angling elitist snob), fly fishing is where it’s at. For me, in later life, all other types of fishing pale in comparison. Oh, I’ll still throw a worm at schooling white perch on occasion, or snag a Red Snapper beneath a Mangrove root in the Florida Keys with a live shrimp, but this is not my idea of fishing at its finest. Why is this? Have I unwittingly become a fishing snob, a purist who must behold the grace of an arcing, unweighting fly line and a gently rolling leader to find fulfillment as a fisherman? Sutcliffe may have figured it out, at least in part. For reasons that escape me, I, too, must “long for simplification and lightness.”

But does this explain why in January in the Florida Keys, amid swaying palm fronds and summer like days, I day dream about ice fishing on a frozen Maine lake? Or why I come back here to be able do that?

Diane and I and my setter followed the dream and went ice fishing last week for a couple of days.

We drove 30 miles to the lake’s snowsled trail. It was a perfect winter day. With the old Skidoo Tundra and an overloaded tote sled, we made our way 13 miles into camp. It took us most of the rest of the day to shovel out, get the fires going, carry the water, troubleshoot the power auger, dry out our damp clothes and put new leaders and hooks on the tipups.

The next day broke clear, cold and windy, with gusts on the lake that drove the surface snow around like a desert sand storm. Things don’t always go smoothly when the winter wind howls from the north. The auger gets ornery. The holes fill with windblown snow and freeze up as fast as you clear them. Your fingers become numb and immobilized as you reach into the bait bucket and hook on that shiner.

A heated ice shack with hot tea and Mr. Allen’s Brandy makes it bearable. Tipup-wise, it was a slow day on the ice. Something to be thankful for? The best part of the day was the evening meal at camp of fried moose loins and pickerel fillets.

Day 2 was a perfect duplication of the day before. Clear skies and biting, bitter, bone-chilling wind from the Northwest. Some of us said the heck with it. We hunkered down at camp with a book and pile of dry beech, and daydreamed about fishing in the Florida Keys.

The next morning, as we loaded up the tote sled for the trip out, temperatures moderated, and so did the wind.

By now you may have figured out the question alluded to earlier. That’s right. Why do I ice fish? Why would any sane person leave the sun-drenched lower lattitudes with azure blue waters and balmy breezes to go hard water angling in sub zero temperatures and bitter north winds?

The short answer is, “I don’t know.” But if I discover why, you will be the first to know.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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