Monday January 13, 2014 | 05:57 PM

 

Clayton Berry's lakefront property "The Shanty" on Crystal Lake. Complete with all the comforts of home (wood stove, bunkbed, picnic table), this ice house has been a star of the lake for nine years.

In January, Crystal Lake in Gray is peaceful, majestic, and most importantly frozen. By 10 a.m. on any given day, it will have attracted a few locals seeking a quiet outdoor experience that as a bonus offers dinner from the depths below. Ice fishing is a wonderful way to enjoy a relaxing day with family or friends outdoors in Maine.

To find out what ice fishing is all about I tagged along with Craig I. Gerry of Wild Wings Guide Service, who was one of my hunter safety course instructors. Gerry’s uncles taught him how to ice fish almost 50 years ago.

We arrived at Crystal Lake in the morning. The temperature was about 10, which considering the deep freeze Maine had experienced a few days earlier, felt more like 30. Gerry loaded his equipment into a sleigh and pulled it about 50 feet onto the ice. During the next hour he proceeded to bore five holes into the ice with a gasoline-powered ice auger,  setting a trap in each one of the ice rimmed black holes. When finished we went back to his truck, parked in the lot across the street, and began waiting for the fluorescent flag on top of the trap to move.

The flag is bent over held down by a piece of metal that will turn when the reel turns and release it when something has hit the bate and/or is tugging on it. When that happens (and it did not while I was there), the first thing Gerry does is clear as much of ice around the hole as possible. He will look at the reel to see if it is turning. If it is turning his philosophy is to let it go. Once it stops he believes the fish has the bait in its mouth and will not spit it out with the hook. He will then reach down, pull the trap up, grab the line and give it a hug to set the hook and start working the fish in.

“Different fishermen have different philosophies,” Gerry said. “Some if the reel is turning, they reach down and grab the line and try to set the hook and sometimes the fish just has the bait in the mouth, but not the hook portion so sometimes they hook up and sometimes they don’t.”

Gerry believes the first run the fish hits the bait, runs, takes the line out, stops, and starts to consume the bait and at that point the hook is inside the mouth. If he waits for a few seconds he thinks he has more of a chance of getting the fish. “It’s fishing, not catching,” Gerry said. “There are days the fish don’t bite. Their feeding patterns change just like all other animals with the moon phases.”

Crystal Lake has a population of bass and pickerel and state stocked brook and brown trout (for the state’s stocking report go here).  The state usually stocks in the spring and late fall to balance out the biology and make sure there is something to catch for people who bought fishing licenses (that income helps fund enforcement, education, biologists, and fish hatcheries). Gerry thinks the longer the fish are in the water eating insects, etc. the better they taste (in the hatcheries they are fed liver pellets). Depending on size of fish he catches, he will do everything from cooking with onions, peppers and mushrooms in a frying pan to stuffing and baking or grilling in tinfoil with vegetables.

Craig Gerry setting traps on Crystal Lake.

Equipment:
Sled or something to pull your gear onto the ice in.
Ice traps (3-5) - According to Gerry, ice traps vary in price from $4 to $50 a piece. He likes Lifetimes and Heritages (available at Kittery Trading Post and L.L. Bean)
Bait bucket and net – Gerry recommends getting a bucket with a Styrofoam liner so it doesn’t freeze up and you lose your fish (ask about at L.L.Bean and Kittery Trading Post, or search online).
Bait – Gerry mostly uses shiners as bait. Sometimes, he said if there is trout or salmon and that’s what he is after and there is a smelt population in the pond he may go to the expense of buying smelts to fish for those particular species.

Safety tips and regulations:
Pick up a free copy of the 2014 Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (MDIFW) Open Water & Ice Fishing lawbook at your local town office – it contains fishing regulations for the year, including per person trap limits and whether one is allowed to use gas powered equipment.
Do not go ice fishing alone (wait till someone else, even a stranger, is also on the ice).
The MDIFW provides information on permissible loads relative to ice thickness here. Remember, no ice is 100 percent safe.
The MDIFW cautions if you break through the ice, don’t panic. Don’t try to climb out, you will probably break the ice again. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Roll to safety. To help someone who has fallen in, lie down flat and reach with a branch, rope or form a human chain. Do not stand! After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to the solid ice. Seek treatment immediately for hypothermia (cold exposure).

Ice fishing events – great opportunity to learn how:
The 2014 Crystal Lake Ice Fishing Derby will take place on Saturday, January 25 in Gray. The event is a fundraiser for the MDIFW and Maine military families. Activities include a polar plunge and ice shanty competition. Kittery Trading Post will have staff on hand to answer questions and demonstrate how gear works. Tickets are $10 per person, $5 for military veterans and active and reserve officers. Contact Kittery Trading Post (888) 587-6246 or Dag's Bait (207) 783-0388 to purchase tickets over the phone. Event begins at 7:00 a.m.

For the first time, Hunters for the Hungry (part of The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Emergency Food Assistance Program) will collect fish that has been caught at the Derby. The program provides a means for hunters in Maine, as well as other states, to donate part of their harvest to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and households with a medical need. Salt and Sea will process the fish. Wayside Food Programs will distribute to soup kitchens and food pantries in Cumberland County. For more information, to donate, or to get connected to a Hunters for the Hungry participating meat processor call toll free, (888) 433-3763.

The next Free Family Fishing Day will take place on February 15-16, 2014. On this day, any person (except those whose license has been suspended or revoked) may fish without a license. All other laws and regulations apply on this day.

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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