Waking up Saturday morning on fish time rather than human time (let’s just say earlier than usual), I had a preconceived notion of what ice fishing entailed. My version included a group of people sitting on overturned joint compound buckets around one hole in the ice, each with a line in, trying to think up conversation, and ultimately freezing until their ears fell off, then using them for bait. Out of all winter activities, ice fishing may have topped the list of those that sounded downright unpleasant. But Saturday morning local master ice fisherman and state soccer champion Keegan Reed, of Whitingham, took me out on Harriman Reservoir, and gave me a lesson in the art of catching the big one.
Anyone who knows me well can attest, I don’t dig large bodies of water, or even swimming pools for that matter. Just ask my friend Russell Murphy about the trip we took on his father’s boat, the “Love Me Tender,” on Cape Cod.
But a frozen body of water couldn’t be too bad, especially when people are driving vehicles on it. So, with my thermometer reading –10 degrees when I got to Wards Cove, I jumped on Reed’s snowmobile (also a first for me), and wasn’t seen on shore again for six hours.
Reed is your average native Green Mountain boy: a hunter, a fisherman, and a snowmobile enthusiast, who makes me look like a city slicker by comparison. My assumption of sitting around all day was driven away immediately as we got to the shanty of Brad Lackey from Jacksonville. Equipped with only a space heater, a bench, and some shelves, this shanty was key early in the day, but as the sun rose, temperatures would near 30 on the frozen tundra. Reed began by showing me how to set hooks into the water using a sounder to judge depth, a minnow spiked just above the spine so as not to kill it (yet), and a spring-loaded flag to inform you of your success. Reed dug out eight holes, and we waited. Reed is a perennial Harriman Derby fisherman who began ice fishing around the age of 11 with his grandfather. Once he got third prize at the derby with a perch he caught, and while he likes the competition, it’s the sport itself that keeps him waking up early during the winter to put lines into Sadawga and Harriman.
According to Reed, I chose the best day of the decade to go out on the usual wind tunnel that is Harriman. Barely any breeze could be felt, and as others began to come by the shanty, including Reed’s fellow state soccer champion Baylee Crawford and a bald eagle that observed our entire operation. A fire was started, and the day began to warm up. One of the strangest parts of ice fishing definitely had to be standing on the lake as you hear the natural phenomenon of ice shifting and settling below you in between the “brappps” of snowmobiles. Winter elements, shifting ice under my feet, and waking up early, it all sounded pretty lousy at first, but as I told Reed, I could see myself getting very used to ice fishing. If I could describe it with one word, I think I would choose “relaxing.”
Reed caught a big ol’ perch halfway through the morning, one of only two fish he caught all day, but as he said, “I could set eight flags, but it only takes one.” While I don’t want to take all of the credit, although I must have been good luck, it was that one .87-pound perch that turned out to be the tournament winner, and Reed got a cool $300 for his catch.
After hitching a ride back to shore, I was tired and a little wind-whipped, but I had once again found a reason to like winter. I’m slowly warming up to winter. What’s next?