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. 

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Sound check: Warren LeGere uses his fish finder in a hole drilled into the frozen surface of Thompson’s Lake in Berne on Feb. 1. The sonar technology is just one among several pieces of equipment LeGere loads on his sled to tow around lakes to go ice-fishing — his means of staying active in the winter season. “I was up on Schroon Lake yesterday,” said LeGere.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

The right height for jigging is met by the weathered seat of this chair — a piece of a play dining set from Steven Ratcliffe’s childhood. A jigging pole was left on the duct-taped chair during the Feb. 1 ice-fishing contest held in Berne, its line leading to a dark hole drilled into the surface of Thompson’s Lake.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

A pair on the ice: Dwight and Haden Anderson, father and son, were a common sight on the ice of Thompson’s Lake on Feb. 1. The ice-fishing contest was held for the longest perch, pickerel, and brown trout. The elder Anderson, Dwight, at right, has been a fisherman for most of his life, moving to Colorado in his 20s and eventually becoming a fly-fishing guide. Haden, 10, talked and bore the cold with his father that day, but didn’t go home with any fish.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Pile of fish: Deborah Johnson of Altamont picks among the perch and white crappie she caught during the ice-fishing contest last Saturday. She and her husband, Kim, said they had a special spot they return to for its abundance of fish. Johnson said she won first place for the longest perch last year.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Shanty comfort: Aiden Keppler, 7, rests on the plywood boards of Todd LaGrange’s small structure on Thompson’s Lake, built to keep out the cold with a heater and a seat to enjoy a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Keppler sat across from his brother, Lucas, 6, as their father, Kevin Keppler, chatted with LaGrange and friends, ice-fishing outside on Feb. 1.  The elder Keppler won for the longest pickerel that day with a 26-and-a-quarter-inch fish.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Promenade: A group of four women walk across the huge ice sheet covering the frozen Thompsons Lake in Berne on Saturday, Feb. 1, surrounded by ice fishers, snacking families, and children playing in the snow.

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.

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