Frigid weather makes for good fishing

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Tue., Jan. 29, 2013
T.J. Persons demonstrates how an auger is used to drill through the ice. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
T.J. Persons demonstrates how an auger is used to drill through the ice. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

A dusting of snow atop a 6-inch layer of ice makes Pachaug Pond look more like a wide-open field than a body of water. And while sub-freezing winter temperatures drive most people indoors, the region’s most dedicated fishermen form a small temporary village of sorts in the pursuit of fish.

“Last weekend this was all open water,” said Rick LaFlamme, as he and a group of friends relaxed at their base camp on the pond. “But with the deep freeze we’ve been having, it locked right back up. It should be 6 inches [deep] across the whole lake now.”

State standards recommend a 4-inch thickness of ice as being able to support a man’s weight, and 5 inches to support an all-terrain vehicle like the one LaFlamme and his friends used to haul their gear out onto the ice. Surrounded by a wide plain of whiteness, they had all the comforts of home: two tent-like shelters anchored to the ice, folding chairs, a grill for cooking burgers, even rock ‘n roll tunes on the radio.

But there’s plenty of serious gear to tackle the job at hand. T.J. Persons used his gas-powered auger to drill a hole through the ice, bringing up a spurt of water when he’d pinched through the top layer. The hole, which is between 8 and 10 inches across, can refreeze within an hour; Persons used a skimming tool to scoop out chunks of ice to keep it clear.

Unlike the cartoon stereotypes, ice fishermen don’t sit at the open hole with a pole in hand. Instead, they let a tip-up do the work. A line baited with a live minnow is attached to a metal bar which spans the diameter of the hole. The device has a small flag, which pops up when the fisherman gets a nibble on the line. Then it’s up to him or her to work the line, using the hands as a reel to pull the fish in. Rows of tip-ups stretched across the ice, extending out from all the fishing camps.

This weekend things were slow on the pond, but LaFlamme said that the group’s last ice-fishing excursion was “like Christmas.” The tip-ups kept them so busy pulling in fish that they couldn’t sit down.

The friends, members of the Griswold Fish and Game Club, were eagerly looking forward to this weekend’s ice fishing derby. Although a warming trend was due to hit the area mid-week, the subsequent cold front was expected to nudge temperatures back below freezing in time for Saturday’s derby.

Why would anyone brave the bitter cold for such an unpredictable result? LaFlamme called fishing “my spiritual fuel since I was a little boy.” Like many of his friends, he’s been fishing since he was a kid, and the sport evokes good memories of family time.

“I’ve fished since I was 4 years old,” said Michael LeSage. “My grandfather and father used to take me out.”

“Fishing is about relaxing,” said Tina Chapman, the Fish and Game Club’s president. “If you catch a fish, fine. If not, you had a good day anyway.”

But LeSage begged to differ: “No. It’s about catching fish.”

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