Icefest 2019

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Rich tending a tip-up.

Every winter, with the blessing of our wives, a group of us dads get away for a weekend. It’s our time to forget our jobs, have a few laughs and bond over an activity we all enjoy. Do we play golf in Florida? No. Poker in Vegas? Nope. We head north to go ice fishing.

While I’m not likely to completely convince you of the sanity of this, perhaps, utilizing a “journal” I kept this year, I can give you some insight on why we always look forward to the trip. Spoiler alert: it’s more about the people you are with than the things you are doing.

Feb. 2, 6 a.m., North Granby,
 -4 degrees.

Ken and I recently split the cost of a new battery-powered auger to drill through the ice. We’re anxious to try it out before our group trip next weekend, and plan to fish a few hours at a local pond. While I’m waiting for Ken to pick me up, I prepare my packing list for the group trip. There are currently more than forty items on the list, ranging from a fleece pullover to extra gloves. But the most important item is the DVD version of Bigfoot’s Wild Weekend. The summary on the back of the DVD case includes this description: “Skeptical tabloid reporter learns Bigfoot isn’t a scary monster, but rather a beer-drinking, panty-stealing party animal.” This sounds like a must-see: a cross between Harry and the Hendersons and Porky’s.

Yay! Ice Fishing.

Feb. 6, 5:30 p.m., North Granby, 40 degrees.

Dave has sent the group a text that reads: “Down to -25 tonight up here on the hill [in Hartland]. Making good ice.” He’s trying to make us feel better about the ice conditions. We’re all worried about the recent weather. It’s been well above freezing during the day, with lots of rain. This year, we’re fishing a lake in Hinsdale, Massachusetts, considerably further south than usual. And we all know Dave fell through the ice two weeks ago at a lake not far from where we’re going.

Feb. 7, 5:30 p.m., Southwick,
38 degrees.

I have completed my share of the grocery shopping. The menu for the trip is exactly what you would expect for six guys operating without supervision. Bourbon and beer for those that drink. Ice tea and seltzers for those that don’t. And, a whole bunch of spicy, greasy and often nutritionally challenged food: chili, sausage lasagna, smoked bratwurst and kielbasa. Funyuns, fried pork rinds, chips and salsa. We also bring salad to help the digestion process, but it doesn’t always get eaten. Thankfully, we have learned to rent a house with multiple bathrooms.

Feb. 8, 12:30 p.m., Hinsdale,
34 degrees.

Ken, Rich, John and I have arrived at the rental house (Dave will arrive early this evening and Bill tomorrow morning). Despite daytime temperatures that have been above freezing for more than a week, we have convinced ourselves that the ice will be safe enough to get in a few hours of fishing this afternoon. We can’t get into the house until 3, so we park in the driveway and start down the path to the lake. Spirits are high. With strong winds forecasted for tonight and tomorrow, this could be the most pleasurable fishing of the trip.

Dismay. When we reach the shore, we find sketchy conditions. Most of the lake is covered with ice, but our obvious path out is peppered with large, seemingly unconnected, blotches of open water. It’s clear that a stream feeds the lake somewhere nearby. A short debate results in consensus that we will wait until morning to fish. Hopefully, the wind and overnight temperatures will firm up the ice.

We eat lunch at a local greasy spoon. Except for Ken, we all have some version of a cheeseburger with fries and/or onion rings. We also buy more chips and some popcorn at Walmart. Stomachs are already beginning to protest.

Feb. 8, 3:45 p.m.

Ken and Rich have decided to look for a different path onto the lake. They head out to drill some holes and test the thickness of the ice. John and I stay behind to “get our gear ready for tomorrow.” For a while, we watch them through the floor-to-ceiling windows as they move slowly across the ice, stopping occasionally to drill a hole. We joke about how dumb they are for walking so close together. When they move out of view, we lose interest.

A text from Ken. They are finding eight to 12 inches of ice. Perfectly safe conditions, but the water is shallow. They’re going to fish for a while.

Another text from Ken. They have already caught a number of perch and claim bragging rights for being willing to brave the ice. John and I shrug off attacks on our manliness and take some solace in the fact that all of the perch they caught were tiny. 

Feb. 8, 10:35 p.m.

 Following tradition, we have played a number of rounds of Setback, a card game that is perfect for our trips. The game involves two teams of two players each competing to be the first to reach eleven points. Winning requires a combination of luck, skillful bidding, successful bluffs and the ability to play in synch with your partner. There is plenty of trash-talking and, usually, some controversy. Tonight, both the trash-talking and controversy focus on Ken’s decision not to bid when he was the dealer with his team well ahead and needing only two points to win. Ken lost the ability to control which suit counted for points. John and I won the hand, then fought back to win the game. Insults, some from his teammate, included: “What was Ken thinking?”, “Ken’s lost his touch.” and “Did Ken fall and hit his head on the ice?”

Feb. 9, 2:03 a.m., Hinsdale,
15 degrees.

I am awakened by howling winds. It sounds like a freight train is passing continuously by the house. Oh boy, I can’t wait to get outside.

Feb. 9, 6:30 a.m., 10 degrees.

Dave has sent me a text from the bedroom upstairs. It’s a Fox News video entitled “Hunters Claim Bigfoot Sighting in Utah Mountains.” I watch in disbelief as a hunter films an object that appears to be a least a mile away from the camera. It’s a dark brown spot on a steep, partially snow covered, hillside. There are condos in the foreground. In 30 seconds of filming, the spot never moves. It is clearly a patch of ground where the snow has melted, but the cameraman says: “It can’t be human. Look how far up the mountain it is.”

Dave is a cryptid enthusiast and the primary reason I bought Bigfoot’s Wild Weekend.

Feb. 9, 8 a.m.

By unanimous consent, we will watch the Bigfoot movie tonight, after dinner and before Setback. We also agreed that we will not question each other’s manliness. Despite constant 25 mph winds and a wind chill temperature around zero, we will all fish.

Feb. 9, 9 a.m., extremely cold.

We worked our way to the one spot on the lake that looked like it might provide some small measure of protection from the wind: the lee side of an island. The going was tough. With the wind at our backs, the sleds we use to carry our gear kept getting blown past us. My sled converts into a small shelter, so it is heavier and taller than the rest. At one point, the wind caught it perfectly, and it sailed past me, pulling me along. With visions of a fractured skull racing through my head, I had to make a quick decision: drop the tow rope (and watch the sled slide all the way to the far shore, with the prospect of pulling it back into the wind while the other guys fished); fall on my butt like I was taught when I learned to ski (with the knowledge that getting up would be both very difficult and likely unmanly); or hold on for dear life. I held on.

Feb. 9, 10 a.m.

We drilled several dozen holes along the shore of the island. Some we set with tip-ups (lines tied to a flag that “tips up” when a fish takes the bait). Others we jigged through, using lures with names like the Swedish Pimple and the Lindy Perch Talker.

Feb 9, 1 p.m.

We have returned to the house for lunch. The unheard of has happened. No one got skunked. Each of us has caught at least one fish. All of the fish were small for their species, but we are satisfied with our effort and our perseverance. The wind-blown air was so cold that removing our gloves to land and release fish was painful. No one complained (at least not out loud). We worked together to share glove warmers, bait and tackle. We took turns checking and resetting the tip ups.

Dave used his Bluetooth speaker to stream satellite radio through his phone. To help stay warm, we sang along with our favorite tunes, including Pure Prairie League’s Amy.


We have already run out of Funyuns and pork rinds. There is still plenty of salad. Thankfully, we have settled into an unspoken bathroom rotation.

Feb. 9, 8 p.m.

We’re back from two more hours of fishing. The wind died down a little, and again everyone caught fish. Dave and Bill actually caught a couple of panfish that were big enough to brag about. Shouts of “Look at the size of this Pumpkinseed” and “That is a huge Crappie” floated across the lake.

We concur that Bigfoot’s Wild Weekend is one of the greatest movies of all time. The movie earns its R rating in the first two minutes, and it’s immediately clear that Bigfoot is, indeed, a party animal. It’s been a long time since a movie has made me laugh so hard. My favorite line comes from an exchange between a reporter investigating a string of sightings and a professor who claims to be an expert on Bigfoot. It went something like this:

Professor: “Contrary to popular belief that they are dim-witted oafs, I have found Bigfoots to be intelligent and thoughtful.”

Reporter: “How do you know that?”

Professor: “I taught one to play catch in less than five minutes.”

John with a prized yellow perch.

Feb. 10, 8 a.m., Hinsdale, 20 degrees.

Bill made an excellent breakfast casserole, which we enjoyed with a lot of hot coffee and the last of the chocolate chip cookies. The plan is to pack everything up and be gone by the noon check out time. Ken, John and I will fish an hour or so before we leave. Dave, Bill and Rich will head straight home. I notice there is plenty of salad to bring back, and not much of anything else.

Feb. 10, 8:17 a.m.

We are out of toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom. Upstairs, the supply is precariously low. Tensions mount.

Feb. 10, 8:25 a.m.

We cannot find the extra supply of toilet paper. Toilet paper is not on the list of things guests are told they need to bring, so where can it be? Timing for this calamity, at least for me, could not be worse.

Feb. 10, 8:32 a.m.

Ken has found a large quantity of toilet paper in a basement closet. All hail Ken, who, in a period of about 40 hours has gone from ridicule to savior.

Feb. 10, 2 to 5 p.m.

Through a series of group texts, we share photos, appreciation for a great time and enthusiasm for next year’s trip. I can’t wait.