Lake Report

A Remarkable and Impressive Paucity of Perch Lake Report March 4 and 5, 2006 On the frigid, windy morning of March 4, 2006 Scott, Drew, Westy, and I piled into Scott’s truck (barely finding room for ourselves amid the morass of strange-looking paraphernalia) and headed for Governor’s Island, detouring to Fin and Feather in Upton, Mass. to pick up shiners. Scott, the parent of a three-year-old and one-year-old, had not jiggered at the lake for four years. And this despite his responsibilities to provide his growing family with protein! I also must report that in those four years Scott had been keeping company with tiltmen (hence the shiners). In fact, he may even be in the process of becoming a tiltman himself. My reaction? Roughly that of the Duke of Edinburgh on being informed that Prince Charles intends to quit the polo circuit and take up pro wrestling. Although Scott spoke of purchasing one of those blaze-orange butt warmers that tiltmen pin to their backsides, he had sufficient consideration for his father not to follow up on the threat. Two weeks of cold weather after a balmy winter had left the lake in a strange state -- open on the wide side and thickly iced over on the narrow side. Cindy had recently advised me that two more snowmobiles had gone through the ice (or, more accurately, had ventured onto parts of the lake where ice had historically been present). Winter bathing has become as much a tradition with Big Island Pond motorheads as with South Boston’s L Street Brownies. So far this year six snowmobilers and one ATVer have participated. The last two snowmobilers, sportier than the others, swam around for about 20 minutes until the Public Service Company of New Hampshire -- fixing wires at the Clevelands -- heard their screams of delight. PSNH or the police (I am unsure which) ended the fun by pulling them out. By the way, I have devised an equitable method of managing for multiple use on New Hampshire lakes -- guaranteed to avoid conflicts between motorheads and the jiggermen: Divide each lake into two parts and allocate the machines to one half -- THE BOTTOM HALF. Roads and island were virtually snowless. Yet there was no dearth of ice, especially in our water pipes. I could get no water in the kitchen or either toilet -- a worrisome development since, in addition to Scott, Drew, Donna and I, there would be seven overnight guests, two of them younger than Drew. At least Donna didn’t have to agonize over the possibilities; by the time she arrived we’d know if the pipes were clogged and ruptured or just clogged. Peter Bogle showed up at noon, and he and Scott went jiggering while I babysat Drew -- not an unpleasant prospect for a jiggerman/grandfather under any conditions but especially with the temperature in the low 20s and frozen spindrift swirling down the lake on a 25-knot north wind. About 2:00 I heard a racket on the Sweeney’s beach, and looked out to see two ATVers performing motorized acrobatics. I grabbed paper and pen, walked up behind them as they were revving their engines in preparation for another run, and recorded their license numbers. Before I could speak the elder driver, about 17, informed me they “weren’t on the island,” calling to mind the memorable words of Chico Marx: “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” When I asked him to explain this alleged miracle he informed me that they were operating their vehicles “below the high tide line” and that the lake bottom was “owned by the Big Island Pond Association.” And he kept plaintively repeating this after I wished him luck in convincing the Hampstead police (now on the case). Their confidence in their innocence apparently shaken, the ATVers roared off. Brian and Lainie Hiller, their twin boys, Zane and Casey, and black lab, Molly, arrived from Connecticut at 3:00. Scott, who had been in cell-phone contact with them, appeared also. The pipes unfroze at 3:15, delivering water to faucets and toilets only. Donna arrived at 3:30, blissfully ignorant of recent water-related pathos. Scott reported that, at the narrows, he and Peter had done “s….” The situation was desperate. “Let’s go,” I told Brian. Now a word about why a three-year-old, a 40-pound Brittany, and two men were barely able to fit into Scott’s bus-size pickup truck. It contained a fraction of Brian’s ice-fishing equipment, including a portable tent mounted on a sled. I have it from a reliable source that, instead of ordering items individually from the ad section of Outdoor Life, Brian rips out all 12 pages and hits the pile with a special stamp bearing his credit card number, his address, and the word “Yes!” Moreover, it is said that Cabela’s has dedicated its spring catalogue to him. “Let’s go,” I said again to Brian, 45 minutes later. Lo, he was ready. Jiggering time being short, we drove Scott’s truck to Dave Schnieder’s, then hurried to the channel on the south side of the narrows. The ice there was thicker than it had been all winter -- 18 auger cranks. Brian deployed his on-ice sonar unit which provided us renderings not only of our jiggers but of perch rising from the bottom to inspect and reject them. Westy, following another dog, ran onto the mainland at Germantown; and, after a lengthy and loud chase by his master, got a rare shakedown for gross disobedience. A turkey vulture, the only sign of spring sighted all weekend, appeared over the big swamp opposite Picnic Rock. Four geese set their wings, dropped their landing gear, and spiraled down into the spring hole. On this day the spring hole had new significance. By participating in an online tiltman’s chat room, Scott had found the answer to a question that had been nagging Bogle and me for two years: Why the dramatic dearth of tiltmen? (Not that we were complaining.) Thanks to Scott, we are now able to dismiss our theory that they were boycotting the lake because of unkind references to them in my lake reports (now available online). After determining that the tiltmen were frightened by the open spring hole, Scott had kindly explained to them that it never freezes over, even in the coldest weather, and that its open water does not mean the ice elsewhere on the lake is about to go out. Tiltmen, after all, are human beings; and it is well that they receive education on realities of the natural world. Presently Scott appeared and set up three tilts at the point. With jiggersticks he and the rest of us managed to add 25 good perch to the bucket before dark, narrowly escaping humiliation and ensuring a decent fish fry. We encountered many pickerel of varying sizes, several of which separated us from our jiggers. The tilts produced what tilts invariably produce: nothing. But at least Scott had brought the requisite beer with which to watch them. Driving back from Dave Schneider’s, we encountered a jeep exciting the logging road. It was Brian’s brother, Steve, who had taken Donna’s directions literally -- “the first right.” At camp Brian officially introduced me to Steve and their father, Bob. With Westy and Molly barking and wrestling amid toy trains, tracks, puzzle pieces, dolls, plastic animals, and two 16-month-old boys, chaos clearly threatened. Fortunately, Drew interceded, saving the situation by throwing Westy’s goosey and “reading” to the twins. Sunday brought four memorable events: 1. wind; 2. a remarkable and impressive paucity of perch; 3. clear images of dancing jiggers, utterly undefiled by fish images, on Brian’s underwater camera (not to be confused with his sonar unit); and 4. Lainie’s French toast, made with “Texas Toast (so called even when it is bread, and at least three times thicker than other bread), milk, eggs, a drop of vanilla, and smothered in heated light amber maple syrup recently rendered from Scott Williams’s sugarbush. If, as my late friend John Voelker noted in his “Testament to a Fisherman,” “Bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there,” maple syrup out of an old bourbon bottle always tastes better at jiggering camp. - 30 -