By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter
When I was very young, my father was so eager to share with me his love for ice fishing that he was willing to make me miserable in order to help me enjoy the experience.
Actually, Dad didn’t intend to make me miserable, but he was prepared to let me suffer a bit if it meant he could fish a little longer.
That description makes him sound somewhat mean-spirited, and he was not. My suffering usually stemmed from the following facts:
1) I was rarely dressed adequately for the conditions, especially when exposed to those conditions for several hours. Red rubber boots, even those lined with lamb’s wool, and tiny mittens enclosed in plastic shells hold up poorly to the cold emanating from the surfaces of frozen lakes and the frigid air of winter.
2) Telling my father that I could no longer feel my hands and feet was tantamount to whining.
3) Because whining meant that I was not tough enough, and because whining interfered with fishing, whining was not appreciated.
So beneath my flimsy coverings, my dainty digits iced up.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy ice fishing. I did, and I still do. But benumbed, grossly whitened fingers and toes hampered my ability to fully revel in the experience. Consequently, I began each adventure with enthusiasm but often concluded it in despair.
Dad was typically apologetic after we had finished trudging to the car from Scout Lake or one of the many lakes along Swanson River Road. When he had removed my boots and mittens and saw what appeared to be Raynaud’s phenomenon, he’d at first say something like, “Why didn’t you tell me it was this bad?” — as if I had been purposely concealing the extent of my misery. But then he’d set about comforting me, rubbing my ghastly extremities, cranking up the heat in the car and
jamming fresh wool socks over my feet and hands for insulation as I thawed. If I looked pitiful enough, he might even dig out a snack for me from his fishing pack.
But I must admit that, despite the cold, Dad did instill in me a love for ice fishing — not quite the same intensity of his own mania, but a love nevertheless. And I did eventually toughen up, and mature enough to learn to dress myself more warmly.
The oldest photo I have of my father and me ice fishing comes from March 1962, the month I turned 4. Dad is pounding at the lake surface with a long-handled ice-chipper. It must be fairly warm because, although his feet are covered with bunny boots, he has removed his thick jacket and is wearing only thin gloves as he hammers away. I, on the other hand, am wearing red mittens, a thick jacket and baggy insulated pants, and my red rubber boots are sheathed with what appear to be the felt liners from a pair of Sorels. I do not yet look miserable, so I must surmise that we had only recently arrived.
Over the years, I have some fond memories of ice fishing, particularly with my father and brother. I have also enjoyed introducing my children to the activity, watching the sheer joy on their faces as they jerked gymnastic trout through a hole the circumference of a coffee can. The last time I ice-fished with them, we drove all the way out to Paddle Lake, where on a sunny March afternoon both kids caught bigger fish than I did, and there was not a hint of whining to be heard.