16 March 2012
on the ice
A camouflaged baseball cap. Two of the men were dressed entirely in camo. Which seemed funny at first, since everything around us was entirely white. And we were fishing. But their clothes were warm. And out there, that’s definitely the most important thing.
I went to Sabattus Pond to meet Rick, a registered Maine guide, for the Maine Statewide Ice Fishing Derby. When I got out of the car on the side of the pond (which was more like a lake), Rick pulled up on a camouflaged four wheeler with chains wrapped around the back tires. He got off nimbly, which was impressive because he’s not a small guy. He cut the image of a man who spends his fair share of time outdoors. He grinned and asked me if I was Laura. When I said yes, he told me to hop on, and we drove out onto the ice.
Rick set up his traps. He drilled holes with a giant auger and dropped his line down, then set his flags. Every hour or so, Rick unrolled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, then went about his business while puffing on his cigarette. He hopped on the fourwheeler and checked a trap. He came back. Still smoking.
From time to time, we could hear exceptionally clearly the shouts of nearby camps. To our left there was a small shanty with two kids running around a lot, checking flags and laughing. On the other side, a different story was unfolding: a group of men, maybe a dozen, from whom we occasionally heard an expletive or loud shout, followed by a bunch of laughter.
We decided to go over and hang out. The first thing I noticed was the heap of dead fish in the center of a ring of shanties and atv’s. Probably about 30. And these aren't small fish like you'd put on a dinnerplate. I'm talking on average 15 inches. A few of them were bloody, some cut into pieces. There were guts strewn everywhere, a long intestine over here, and what could probably be a kidney over there. Every once in a while an eagle would fly over looking for extra fish. Also everywhere - beer cans. As one sober guy loaded them into a trash bag, another yelled out “Hey, I was gonna save those. My kids need to go to college.” Followed by wild laughter.
The guys stood around and goofed off, talked sports or hunting, even cooking on occasion. Every once in a while a guy would duck into a tent and yell out a question. If a guy said yes, a beer would come soaring through the air towards him.