Francesca Bardazzi (right) an international student from Florence, Italy gives Chad Kirkpatrick a hand while drilling holes in the ice of Perch Pond in Old Town in March 2019. Credit: Gabor Degre

Saturday and Sunday, as you may have heard, constitute a Free Fishing Weekend here in Maine, and the state is inviting you to head out onto the ice (safely, of course) and try your hand, whether you have a license or not.

If you’ve never been ice fishing, the prospect can be a bit intimidating, I’ll admit. Your best bet is to tag along with someone who knows what they’re doing and who owns all the gear you’ll need. Your second best bet is to read this column and not make any of the same mistakes that some of my buddies have made over the years.

Note to my fishing pals: Even though you surely deserve to be outed for the hilarious moments I’m about to describe, your names have been omitted to save you from ridicule. I will accept payment for my discretion in the form of bacon, beer or red hot dogs.

Tip No. 1: Don’t fall into an ice hole. Honest. This can happen. Just ask my fishing buddy.

One year, a bunch of us headed out to Green Lake, where we chased flags half the day and spent the other half the day jigging out of a pop-up ice shelter.

At the end of the day, as we scrambled to load up the gear and return to our trucks, we pulled the portable shelter away from the hole and folded it up.

That, of course, left a sizeable hole — we had drilled six holes beside each other, as I recall, then chipped out the connecting ice to make it smooth — which would accommodate a couple fishermen at a time.

As it turns out, that hole was the perfect size for my fishing buddy to step into, which he did. Luckily (or something like that), his upper leg smashed into the ice on the way down, saving him from a total splashdown. Swearing ensued.

Don’t try that trick this weekend.

Another time, the same fishing buddy approached the public landing on a soggy and slippery day, hauling a kid’s sled loaded with gear. The slope down to the lake was steep. My fishing buddy made one bad step, went down, slid through the puddles all the way down to the lake, and spent the rest of the day wet and miserable.

Again, some foul words may have been uttered.

My advice is to avoid glare ice. Wear ice cleats. Hope for the best. If you don’t, you could end up like Roger.

Ah, Roger. Never really met the man, but I heard about him on another ice fishing outing, when Roger’s pal roared over to our shack on an ATV just so he could tell us about the tragedy that had befallen his fishing partner.

Seems Roger stepped out of his ice shack on another wet-and-slippery day, lost his footing and fell flat on his back.

Our narrator said his own reaction to the pratfall was instant (and I think you’ll agree, unforgettable): “I looked down at him and said, ‘Hey, Roger! How’d that feel?’”

Not very good, I’d bet. And Roger’s misstep can still be a teachable moment for all of us.

That said, I have to admit that ever since I first told my family this story more than a decade ago, we’ve borrowed the quote many times. Whenever one of us might have done something foolish — pounded our thumb with a hammer, hit our head on a car door, or the like — another of us is likely to ask the same question: “Hey, Roger! How’d that feel?”

Don’t be like Roger.

The moral of this column, I suppose, is pretty simple. Wear ice cleats. Be careful. Have fun.

And my final tips are to make plenty of food and find some form of shelter, if possible. Fish with good friends. Laugh early, and often.

And remember, even if you don’t catch a lot of fish, everything will be OK. At least you didn’t fall in an ice hole.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold. Have a fishing story to share? Send ‘em along! We’re always looking for tales to share with our readers.

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...