In the early 1960s when my husband Bob was in his teens, he lived in Plattsburgh with his grandfather, Pip, and his grandmother, Mim. Bob and Pip spent many a winter day ice fishing on Lake Champlain.
Using a Flexible Flyer sled with a wooden apple box bolted to it, they would set off across the ice. Pip sat on the lid of the apple crate and Bob pulled him around on the ice until Pip was satisfied that they had arrived at a spot where they would catch fish.
Using a cold chisel to punch a hole in the ice, Bob went to work. The chisel was tied to a rope secured around Bob’s waist or tied to the sled, because if the chisel slipped from Bob’s hands while he was using it, the tool would end up at the bottom of the lake.
Once the hole was 6 inches or so across, Pip, who had been supervising from the overturned 5-gallon bucket he was sitting on, would bait his hook with a bit of frozen fish they had brought along, drop his line into the hole and “jig it.” Jigging is the act of raising and lowering the line in the hopes of enticing a fish to take the bait.
Most of the supplies they used were either homemade or simple and readily available. The hand lines they used were boards with one long section with a hold drilled into it. The fishing line was wrapped around the board with the end threaded through the hole.
Once Pip was settled on his bucket and fishing in the first hole, Bob began chiseling out a second hole for himself. It wasn’t unusual for Pip to announce, just as Bob was baiting his hook, that there were no fish at that location and they needed to move on to a new spot. So off they would go with Bob pulling the sled, and Pip scouting the ice for where the lunkers lurked.
They built a fish shanty — a heavy wooden shelter on runners that they would put on the ice when it was good and thick. It had room for three bucket seats, and a small wood stove in the corner to keep them warm. Pip was a cautious man and never drove on the ice, so the fish shanty would be pushed and pulled to the location they decided on.
Each time the guys would go out to it they used their apple box sled to haul wood and whatever supplies they would need that day. When the ice was thick enough for the shanty, Bob used a hand auger, which he had succeeded in talking Pip into purchasing, to make the fishing holes.
They caught plenty of fish most of the time; smelt, ling, perch and an occasional pike. After a day of fishing they brought their cleaned catch to Mim, who was well known for her delicious fish chowder. I wasn’t yet part of the family when ice fishing was a winter activity, but I enjoyed Mim’s chowder plenty of times during the summer when the guys brought their catch in from the lake.
Pip and Mim are gone now, but I can’t see a shanty on the frozen lake, or folks sitting on 5-gallon buckets out on the ice, without thinking of them with a smile. The memories Bob has shared with me are so vivid that I think of them as my own, and treasure them.
Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or email@example.com.