The Swimmer's

I have no idea why we always decided to have greasy sausage  on the Coleman, but we did!!!  The house stunk the night before from precooking that stuff at 1030 pm.  It was all part of the preliminary preparation that ice anglers go through before they hit the ice.....The peripherals! Unfortunately back in those very early angling years, one of the perks was brandy.  Who was the idiot that began associating ice fishing with brandy...or even drinking in general???.  Mocking the idea is my prerogative right now, but in those days...brandy it was...during the day, when....ICE FISHING.

00 theswimmerLets see the grill and the fuel?...yup the sausages and rolls and condiments and snacks and candy (candy is different than snacks, its special!)? all the tip ups and the gear? about the blades for the new year?...My brothers reply was "affirmative"  We agreed that he would meet me at some ungodly early hour.  In the total dark of course.  Why??  Who Knows, it was just part of my fanaticism.  Besides we got permission to fish a private farm pond and the thought of being the first and only anglers at this place, gave us the right tingles as we ended the night.

Farm Ponds are a privilege to fish and even visit.  They are Gods perfect eco-system.  It seems they have the best frogs and pollywogs and turtles and crayfish and hellgrammites and ducks and herons and otters and muskrats and fresh water clams   and on and on.........Oh yes, they also have huge bass that have lived a life of no pressure from eager anglers.  Farm ponds are so pristine.  When I was younger I used to float on top of this farm pond in town and stare down with a mask while breathing with my snorkel.  Never wanted to tread the know about those snapping turtles...Yikes!!  Striper mikes loves all of nature equally.........The insect intrigues me as much as the otter does.  Life's interaction and limited time span makes me feel the yearn to stare at all living things and observe their walk down life's lane. Don't kill things...Release fish when you can...shake hands with life, don't put yourself above it, respect the mission of all of Gods creatures.  We all have a purpose and a farm pond is one of the finest places to watch the circle of life in all its glory. 

I wonder if I really sleep when I am going fishing the next day.  Sometimes it seems like an intolerable task that I must submit to in order to go the following day.  Sleep has always bored me....this night was no different and I sort of...almost slept....till it was arrival time for Patrick.  When he came...I had the car packed with the gear and he had a bag full of coffees and the bait.  Its Time To Cut The Ice.....!!!!

The exhaust left a long tail in back of the funky Chrysler I had as we disappeared into the cold dark night.  Inside the car , it was a different scene...We were all hyped up and just got ourselves going even more by saying that there must be giant bass in this pond if it is never know the HOPE bit....Most anglers are more hopeful than they should be!!! But as mentioned,we REALLY made each other  more excited by the minute.  The coffees were followed by two big gulps of blackberry brandy as an almost symbolic gesture towards the rites of passage into a day of ice fishing.  Sometimes guys can be so odd...I know....I'm a guy!

When we got to the pond, it was completely snow covered except for the few indications of springs as the dampness made by the motion of the spring assured that no snow would stick here. There was not a foot print on the entire body of water.  We re-psyched ourselves with another morning gulp  of "Bad Boy Juice" and took out THE SLED! 

Ice fishing and image are actually connected.  Believe it or not.  How you carry out your stuff and how easy it is for you to find all your gear  and food and warmth are all keenly compared by other ice cutters.  We had a cool sled.  Room for the Coleman stove...and fuel ...and food...and a funky old basket that had all our tip ups etc.  The auger fit right on the side and there was still room for our radio and beverage.....We scanned the area, moved away from the springs and mentally laid out our pattern for getting that bass of a life time.  We always shook hands before any fishing event....and still do....and we would say  "Good Luck".  Sometimes those two words can come in handy....very handy.Nice three pounder.

3 pounder

Brothers seem to always have this ruff and tumble kind of relationship.  That is magnified when you have a lot of brothers....and multiply that by 10 when they are all Irish!!!  Patrick is ten years younger than me....and always has been!  (that's a joke). He looked up to me in many ways but there was always this half wrestling scenario that was part of our relationship.  Like two bucks always testing each other. or two male dogs.  Today was no different.  Right from the night before we were jostling each other. . As we talked, the rough housing continued.

Those deep groaning ice cracks always let out a little adrenaline.  This pond had plenty of them.  The snow was all powder and barely four inches thick and the pristine ice underneath it was very appealing.  I knew we would get a beauty at this virgin spot.  It was going to be a sunny morning as the orange started to steal the darkness from last nights evening.


I began the drilling and Pat started with the Coleman stuff.....more coffee. those dried sausages...etc.  The ice seemed soft or my brandy muscles were strong......but I had six holes dug in no time and the perky shiners were dancing below the surface.  Patrick was going to drill his six holes and I walked with him as he began his augering  His style was also quick and powerful as only seconds passed before I saw the auger reach the water.  How thick is this mike?..........seems around 4-5 inches Pat..PLENTY!  Maybe there are some nice pickerel in this pond.....I am going to put one in this cove.  There were no indicators of springs in the cove, so to pass the time  I went with him as we chattered.

Six am is always cold in the dead of winter. and this was no exception.  We both were ready.  Full thermals...Huge boots, tested to -40 degrees.......Korkers attached to them for grip on the ice.......and the traditional full outer overall suit. fully insulated.  And don't forget the array of hats and gloves etc.  We were warm, but our face and nose told us. COLD!!

This was over twenty years ago, but I remember it like yesterday.  You learn lessons from all great adventures.....and ice fishing on a desolate pond is an adventure.  What was the lesson you may ask??.............Keep reading.

While walking to Patrick's supposed pickerel cove, we suddenly, in unison , both felt the ice shift a little.  Our loud chuckling and bantering  became hushed and rosy cheeks were replaced by shock gray.  WOW, ..did you feel that??......I sure did......there are no spring holes visible here......but it seems thinner.  Patrick decided his pickerel cove was best left alone and we began to walk out of there in a slightly more brisk fashion.  Brisk lead to quicker and then the traditional pushing began.  "Move away from me , the combined weights will plunge us into this artic water."  "Well that goes for you to" he said and gave me that little brother push.  It caused him to lose his balance and it is at this point that you will realize why I chose a similar name to another angling lore saga......The Swimmer...that story was slightly mythical...this one was not!!!....The impish shove shifted our weight and before I could comment on his routy brandy nature......WE PLUNGED THROUGH THE ICE!

Ah yes, the lesson learned???...Not all springs are forceful enough to evidence themselves on the snows surface by melted spots.  Some springs keep the ice thin......below the snows this one!

Falling through the ice must be like getting shot.  You know it is extreme and do not feel the numbing cold instantly. The body saves the agony for later and puts you into survival mode.  I did not want to drown. Our weight and the weight of our heavy winter gear dragged us to the bottom in a second.  Although over my head and was not by much, because when I felt my feet hit the bottom, I pushed up with all my might and air was again available to me.  Patrick did the same and his head was gasping like mine.  No laughs now.  Patrick got back on to the surface of the ice before me and then assisted me out.  We were alive.  It was then that we started the nervous laughing that can come from a near death experience.  The outside of our soaked clothing was icing over and hypothermia was knocking at our door.  As mentioned ICE FISHING CAN SCARE YOU TO DEATH.  These two SWIMMERS can attest to that.

But , alas, this saga is not over.  Even in those day...Striper Mike always pushed the envelope.  As we stood and shivered we realized that our special sled...all the tipups...and gear...and stove...and auger...were still on the pond!  I must have weighed 50 lbs more than normal with this soaked clothing...Patrick likewise.  Should we leave that stuff????....My response. after just crawling out from a pond plunge was...NO.  I stripped off all my cloths except for my wet thermals and started to walk back out!!  I told pat to stay there and plan the NEXT saving endeavor.  While gathering up the gear, my heart beat was thunderous.  I get off on fear....and right that second....I was very afraid.  My steps were soft and small and my motions were smooth and purposeful.  The effect of the brandy was long washed away and I was stone cold sober.

Yes I got all the gear back...yes we made it home ok...yes we learned a lesson ....and No we did not catch anything except some following day sniffles......Monumental moments mold magnificent memories!!...make more..........Mike

mike on frozen pond