Letter to Martha Stewart

Dear Ms. Stewart: While driving to my camp in southern New Hampshire at 10:30 a.m. this past weekend I was horrified to hear your report on what you called “ice fishing” broadcast on WBZ Radio and, as I understand from my wife, other major networks across the nation. As a promoter of tasteful, elegant entertainment, you yourself will be horrified to learn that, while what you were tub-thumping for does occur on ice, it is no more “fishing” than stains on a stable wall made by the soiled tail of a horse is “art.” This odious deployment of “tip-ups” you speak of is to genuine ice fishing what sweat-stained, sleeveless undershirts are to tuxedoes, what Sterno is to single-malt. Any radio commentator who would serve such fare to her listeners might be expected to serve dogfood sandwiches to dinner guests, carrying them from the kitchen under her armpits while clutching cans of Rolling Rock. The sort of “ice fishing” you describe is most certainly NOT a good thing. First, forget everything you have been told about ice fishing by your associates at K-Mart. A person who carries what you call “an auger” onto the ice for the purpose of “cutting holes for ice fishing” might, at least in the minds of those abundantly endowed with charity, be only ignorant. You can identify these sorts a mile down the lake because they have orange “Magic-Heat” cushions pinned to their backsides. However, a person who would carry “an ax” onto a lake for the purpose of “cutting holes for ice fishing” is positively feral and probably a menace to society. You mentioned “bob houses.” To anglers with even rudimentary taste they are no better than outhouses, and doubtless used for the same purpose. Anyone who would sit in a “bob house” to “ice fish” is the sort of person one would expect to meet on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in James Dickey’s “Deliverance.” Now let me educate you about elegant, tasteful fishing through the ice, properly known as “jiggering.” As a case study I shall detail the elegant, tasteful sport my brother-in-law, Barry Reed, and I enjoyed Saturday afternoon. By the way, one jiggers only with a single, handmade jigger attached to a single, handmade jiggerstick. One does not “cut holes,” one CHOPS holes -- these with a hand-made chisel with a hardened head. It takes a good man to weld a hardened head to a soft-steel shaft. Nothing you buy, especially at K-Mart, is of the remotest use to jiggermen. While I was waiting for Mr. Reed to arrive I jiggered at Pickerel Rock, working south. However, with each hole I became increasingly distrustful of the ice, which disappeared entirely after about 100 yards. When I began punching through with one chop I decided to reverse course. For some reason there was not another fisherman, elegant or otherwise, on the entire lake. After an hour I had only two perch in the creel. Barry, Cathy, and my nieces, Heather and Susan, arrived as I was trudging up the beach. Meg -- the border collie proclaimed by Cathy’s bumper sticker to be “smarter than your honor student” -- gave Westy the Brittany pup his first lesson in dog etiquette, especially butt sniffing. After lunch Barry and I walked on the lake to First Perch Cove, in back of Dave Schneider’s camp. Here the ice was seven inches thick, two hits shy of “hard chopping.” The jiggering conditions were the worst possible -- bright sun, cold, high pressure. The perch came very slowly until about 3:00 when a cloud bank rolled in. Then I hit a few glory holes, hauling out a dozen or so in five minutes. Three greater black-backed gulls and a pair of red-tailed hawks orbited above us. Most of the perch were good sized, but no cows. We caught no bass, trout or bluegills and only one short pickerel which bit me when I extracted the jigger from its gills. To our jiggers I had hooked small bits of plastic worm by Powerbait. It worked for me, not Barry. When he went to the more traditional and elegant eyeball, fish started coming for him, too. At twilight Donna, Beth, Cathy, Susan, Meg and Westy walked by on the trail. Westy ventured 100 feet onto the ice, but then got scared and retreated. I had been gravely troubled and chagrined by the realization that we had left the beer in the warm kitchen. But when the ever-provident Donna informed us she had placed it on the back porch, we stuffed our 40 perch into the creel and hustled back to camp. A white-breasted nuthatch had crashed into the picture window and gone comatose for 10 minutes. Luckily, however, Heather was on hand to revive it. Ms. Stewart, I shall tell you that the meal of perch fillets, dipped in milk and eggs, rolled in Italian bread crumbs, and fried quickly in light oil, exceeded all your previous standards for tastefulness and elegance. Moreover, they were consumed with Pinot Grigio and Guacamole made from avocados picked and sent me by my birding friend Kay Charter. I wish that I could report that my relatives remained tasteful and elegant throughout the evening. However, despite their loutish, drunken behavior, the outing was, by any measure, a stunning success. That night the whole lake iced over for the first time this winter, and there was frost on the inside door latches. Now we can jigger into March. And that’s a good thing. With best regards, Ted Williams