Ice-fishing for soul

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

A new hole: Jeremy Glass wrestles an ice auger at noon on Feb. 1. Ice fishers spent the entire morning on Thompson’s Lake, which was pocked near its shores with several holes for each person. 

BERNE — The flags didn’t fly. Haden Anderson and his father, Dwight, sat on a plain of white-covered ice, surrounded by wooden frames holding spools of fishing line, dropped into the black water of Thompson’s Lake, and attached to orange flags.

“It was a gorgeous morning,” Dwight Anderson said — a nod to his lack of fish — as he and Haden, 10, walked with their gear from the snowy ice to the snowy shore.

The ice-fishing contest held in the state park on Feb. 1 drew scores of tiny silhouettes spread across the lake, some huddled over holes, rods in hand, others talking, waiting for their flags, and others dragging their sleds of equipment across the ice.

Like the Andersons, many had come for the calm of being out on the ice as the sun rose. Ice-fishing looks like the most serene of leisure sports. Mostly men, the contestants pulsed short fishing rods in up-and-down movements over holes in the ice. The wooden-framed tip-ups, with their spools of fishing line, allowed for a wrestling match, a walk across the lake, or an impromptu football game.

Most of the fishing holes were made closer to the shore. Dwight Anderson explained that the fish prefer the warmer water, around 39-degrees Fahrenheit, swimming closer to the bottom of the lake.

A black tent stood in the middle of the lake. Inside, was a large chair with a propane heater beneath. A white box was the insulated, aerated container for live bait minnows. A tall man, with a white beard and dressed in a black coat, snow pants, and hat, stood outside smoking a cigar.

Warren LaGere of New Salem said he came to the ice-fishing contest to support Thacher Park. Since a heart bypass surgery 10 years ago, LaGere said, he has revived his ice-fishing skills to stay active in the winter.

“Really, I hated the outdoors in the winter,” LaGere explained, adding that he felt similarly about clearing snow from his driveway in the morning before work. The last time before his surgery that he had been ice-fishing was with his father, in 1963, he said.

Retired from the state’s Department of Labor, LaGere now spends much of his time outdoors. When he visits lakes to fish — Schroon, Sacandaga, Otsego — LaGere likes to be out by himself. On Saturday, he was listening to a recorded reading of Return of the King of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He participates in chat rooms about ice-fishing online.

“That’s the social aspect of it that I get involved in,” said LaGere.

A man in camouflage overalls ran towards a tip-up with his son trailing behind after a fisherman had called out that his flag was tipped.

Earlier in the morning, Dwight Anderson spoke about when he had been a fit fly-fisherman in Colorado. He grew up just beneath the overlook in Thacher Park, starting to ice fish in his teens. He moved to Breckenridge, Colo. when his friend advised him to do what he wanted. He eventually made a living by guiding people on fishing trips.

“It’s very Zen,” Anderson said of fly-fishing, where he enjoys solitude and silence, not the chumming of ice-fishers. Anderson was wearing a red vest and a navy blue sweatshirt, with sunglasses and a winter hat.

Once, while fishing on his own, Anderson saw a trout he guessed to be 12 pounds eye his bait. As it reached the line, the trout’s eye darted over to Anderson and dropped down into the water. He walked for an hour and came back, crawling on his hands and knees to cast again for the large trout, without success.