I took my snow boot liners out for washing and the boots themselves went in the shower. The sled’s about to be locked away in the basement. This week the tip-ups and jig lines will be worked over in preparation for next season. All in all, I’m just saying that the ice fishing season has ended here in southwestern Pennsylvania.
I can’t complain about this though; it was a good, long season in which I was out on the ice twice as much as the previous year. I’ve stopped fishing this year in mid-March when the ice is normally receding in late February. The ice gods smiled upon us and their bounty was rich.
To understand my wanderings atop frozen lakes is less to understand anything about fishing method and is more a study in compulsion. I roam around across the flat expanse day and night because that’s what one does in the winter, as far as I can tell. The same 12 year old Cedric that fished alone on the hardwater of northern Maine still goes out in search of fish or in search of new places, in search of something.
Knowing that this is my own special compulsion, I don’t strive to bring many other people out with me. This is something that hearkens from childhood for me, that feels right, that can’t ever fully be shared. That being said, I did introduce one fellow to the sport this winter and I’ve enjoyed showing Anthony how it’s done. And I’ve been happy to see Anthony take right to it, already eager for first ice next December, the same way I feel every March.
Time alone on the winter lakes is still the best though, my time to paint my own thoughts across a broad white canvas, my antidote to chaos, to borrow a phrase from a better thinker. And while borrowing thoughts, I might also say that I feel sure the hours spent on a frozen lake are hours not deducted from the hours of a man’s life.
I slept in the snow this year alongside the lake, listening for the coyotes who’d certainly been surprised to see me. I slept on the ice beside dormant holes. My sled left a long track across untold miles of snow. I savored a silence and a darkness unknown back in Pittsburgh after nightfall. I look up and sometimes feel I see the aurora in Pennsylvania’s noctilucent clouds.
The gentle grayness before daylight holds promise – four lines wait around the bend of the sleeping cove. The “traps” are frozen hard in place where only my long blade can move them. Four-toed tracks lead from one line to the next today. The coyote has already been here to check for me. The broad white canvas spreads again, waiting for me to paint my own ideas across it.
I need nothing here but a rising morning breeze, sunlight breaking above the conifers in the east and and subtle tapping on the wispy rod tip by my feet. Water boils on the cylinder of a woodstove by my feet as the morning’s first perch is slid onto the ice and all is right with the world.
We strive through new techniques and new technologies for better outdoorsmanship. But if there’s something out there beyond outdoorsmanship, it’s to be one with the world surrounding you, frozen or otherwise. When we attain this, the technologies are often better left at home and the techniques are mindless and visceral.