As a father of four boys ages 10 and under, there is never a shortage of requests on what they want to do. Their adventure list is quite long and most of it consists of being outdoors. My wife, Heidi, and I find ourselves hiking, canoeing, hunting, fishing and often just exploring. The past few years we have circled a date on the calendar when we would go ice fishing. This past Monday was that day and a special day it was.
Just so you know, I am an old-school fisherman who never reveals his favorite fishing hole. The unwritten code states that if you have a close friend, it is fine to bring them to your spot, but to tell them the location isn’t cool. Furthermore, if someone else shows you their favorite fishing spot you are never allowed to reveal that spot without the permission of the person that showed it to you. With all that said, I am not violating any code when I tell you that Pickerel Pond, located about 12 miles from Old Town, is an outdoor paradise for kids. I know it is OK to reveal the location because the entire facility has been meticulously maintained and promoted to get today’s youth interested in the outdoors. It works. My boys love the place.
So Monday we packed up the truck with our golden retriever, Logan, ice-fishing traps, tackle, camera, extra clothes, hats, mittens, snacks, diaper bag, binkies, Capri Suns and milk bottles and headed northeast.
We stopped at Old Town Trading Post, as always, and picked up shiners, smelts and a dozen worms.
We believe that you never know what pleases the fish’s palate on any given day, so we throw everything under the ice. Come to find out, at Pickerel Pond fish like all three choices.
Soon after setting up the first trap with a smelt there was a flag. This trap belonged to Tristan, my 7-year-old. We all gathered around and watched the spool run for about a minute. When the spool stopped spinning, he set the hook. He brought in a nice 15-inch brook trout. He was so excited to bring that fish through the ice. Getting skunked was no longer a fear and neither was what we were going to have for dinner. I teach my boys “if you kill it, you eat it”. That is the way I was raised and that is my belief.
A short time after that my oldest son, Free, had a flag on the trap he set with a shiner. We all ran to that trap, watching the spool turn slowly as the fish headed toward deep water. Maybe this was the big one, we all thought. Maybe this will be a wall hanger. Maybe our chipped hole isn’t big enough to get this monster through the ice.
Come to find out, it was just a little fish with a ton of energy. He did catch a brook trout, but it was only about 10 inches long, so we quickly removed the hook and released that fish
back into the pond. I said, “Maybe someday another kid will catch that fish when he gets bigger.”
As soon as I said that, I thought about what was going on behind me. My third son, Landon, likes to ride in the pack basket when it is strapped to my back. Ever since he was old enough to stand he has been riding back there. When we go for a hike in the woods, a walk across the ice or just a walk around the block, Landon claims that spot. This was Landon’s second trip ice fishing, and for a 22-month-old boy he did fantastic. He spent most of the day slipping on the ice, falling down in the snow, playing with the bait and watching curiously as the fish we caught continued to move on the ice. He spent four hours outside, not saying a word, just taking it all in, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Overall it was a beautiful day with a little fresh snow and slightly overcast. There was actually a brief moment when the sun broke through the clouds and the snowflakes were falling so softly they appeared to be in slow motion. As the bright sun hit the fresh fallen snow it looked like the trees were covered in diamonds. We all sort of paused during that brief time, looked around and drank it all in.
When the sun went away and the sky began to darken, we decided it was time to pack it up. We picked up our traps and belongings and headed back to Bangor.
I asked my boys on the way home if they had fun and they said it was the “best ice fishing trip ever.”
I told them it was mine, too.
Next year, we will be bringing my newborn son, Hunter, along for the trip. After all, Landon will be too big for the pack basket by then.
It will be Hunter’s turn.
Free Martin is an avid outdoorsman who lives in Bangor.