Ice fishing on Lake Willoughby, Sunday’s draft  

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So grandfather went out again in the morning and – coming back in from the cold -declared grimly that they should try and get some sleep

as the ice was sound enough now, and they would go ice-fishing at nightfall and stay out in the bitter cold until almost midnight. Burbot mainly feed at night and that is when they had to set their lines.
Grandfather in the meantime put on single hooks with a gap between point and shank larger than ¾ of an inch. He stored them carefully in two 5 gallon buckets, each large enough to carry many sets of lines made from dowels. For each line they had about 8-ounce sinkers. Because together these were too heavy for the buckets, they were packed separately in rough hemp sacks. He packed two sleds with supplies, one for himself and Joe and one for Will who was old enough now to do his own fishing at a hole about 70 ft, away from theirs. He packed rope, ice picks and augers, a spud bar, two horse blankets for each of them and extra mittens.

As fishing burbot is done with hooks flat on the ground so they did not walk too far from the shore because the reef at the shore of the lake, as you know, falls off steeply into the main lake basin, deeper than any line is long that has ever been cast down the lake. 300 ft. maybe more. Nobody knows what creatures might be living down there, in the abyss of darkness but I guess they would not be a welcome sight in our world.

Burbot spawn on the rocks and boulders in 2 to 20 feet of water, and that is fairly close to shore, on the reef and the first drop-off at the base of the reef. But staying close to the shore was dangerous, as the edges of the ice can be much thinner and shallow water in general changes temperature more readily and the ice is unstable. And even when the ice had formed to grandfather’s satisfaction, we were aware that sometimes, not too often, the ice somewhere out on the lake from the depth of the basin, could shatter with the sound of a whip or a scream and rip through the ice all the way to shore with deadly speed. If you heard the whip you were to make for shore, leave everything behind, not care for catch nor supplies, just run. That’s why you would never put a good knife down on the ice, while fishing, and why you kept the ice pick in your belt as well. These things were hard to come by – alas not as hard as two healthy sons. So even if, by any chance, you had left your tools where you were not to leave them, you were still expected to run.

It was dangerous to go out there, and both, grandfather and grandmother, were weary to let Joe and Will join in, but they needed the extra hands to make enough catch or else they would starve to death.

Will and Joe did not mind the danger, far from it, they could not wait to get out onto the ice. They were boys, locked in a cabin for many weeks, safe some small outings, and they were missing summer and their freedom. They even enjoyed the idea of danger as much as any boy would, and they trusted above all that grandfather, who could walk on ice as fine as a sheet of parchment, knew when the right time had come for them to go out.

And the adults in their own way also were impatient and found it hard to wait for the ice to get sound enough, for the best time to catch burbot is their spawning season, a time when there was not only burbot but also plenty of whitefish and pike to be caught, while after the season passed the lake could look like a desert and you wouldn’t spot another burbot until next winter for they lived in the depth.

The lake had glazed over and the ice had hardened and grown without any snow, making the safest ice you could hope for.

And the most beautiful, too, though it does get very dark at night at your fishing hole, the ice becomes like a window into the lake. And if you are patient , just before nightfall, and despite the cold hold your position on the ice without moving, you can watch the burbot trough the ice as about a dozen males and females form a writhing ball several feet in diameter and dance what looks like an agonizing devil’s dance under water, rolling over the bottom of the shallows and muddying the waters under the black ice.

Don’t forget, they are creatures of the deep. They have sharp teeth and they are mighty strong predators, skimming the shallows for crayfish, perch, minnows and even creatures almost their own size when it’s time to feed. Fearless they are. And they will fight back when they have fallen prey to your bait and hooks.

I am looking forward to reading your comments!

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