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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Vermont Machismo: Ice Fishing

Air Date: Week of

Winter visitors to Vermont often head to the slopes for skiing and snow shoeing. But rugged locals enjoy a different kind of winter sport. Vermont transplant Steve Delaney decided to see if he might be up to the challenge of ice fishing. Steve Delaney lives near the shore of Lake Champlain, in Milton, Vermont.


CURWOOD: Winter visitors to Vermont often head to the slopes for skiing and snowshoeing. But rugged locals enjoy a different kind of winter sport. Vermont transplant Steve Delaney decided to see if he might be up to the challenge.

(Footfalls on snow; slipping sounds. A man's voice: "Whoop!")

DELANEY: I'm walking on the roof of Lake Champlain, getting ready for the first scene in an irrational act.

(Scraping sounds)

DELANEY: I have to scrape the snow off the ice so I can drill it.

(Scraping continues)

DELANEY: Okay, now I've got room for the auger.

(Long scraping sound)

DELANEY: This is a sort of a giant corkscrew that (sniffles) spins up nice little shavings of ice as it digs a hole in the ice. But (sniffles) ice resists this thing. It takes a long time to drill a hole through about 18 inches of ice.

(Scraping continues, stops, metal hitting ice. Scraping resumes. Sound of plunging into water.)

DELANEY: Well, I've got a column through about 18 inches of ice; I thought it was closer to 24. Big enough to stuff a football into or pull a fish out of. See, that's the idea. This is ice fishing. It's a cultural thing in the northern states. I'm about 30 miles south of the Canadian border, and the Canadian wind has me zeroed in (sniffles).
Actually, it's below zero with the wind blowing. But that's okay, because it perfects the experience I"m having. You're not supposed to be warm when you're ice fishing.

Now, what you do is, you sit on an upside-down 5-gallon plastic bucket, and you drop a line down into the water. And on the end of the line, hiding the hook, is a make-believe fish eye, a glob of colored plastic.
Now, real Vermonters say perch go crazy over that plastic fish eye and jump on the hook. Okay, down there, I'm ready. (Pause) Um, there seems to be a pause in the excitement here. So, I've got time to think.
(Sniffles) To think thoughts like: what am I doing here? Well, I'm laying the groundwork for my remote descendants to claim Real Vermonterhood. You see, I can't be a Real Vermonter because I wasn't born here. And the kids can't, either; same reason. It's like running for President; you have to be born here to qualify. Except in Vermont it's worse, because your parents have to be born here, at a minimum.
Come on, fish.

So, my grandchildren can't be real Vermonters, either. But my great- grandchildren will quality, unless they change the rules again. Seventh- generation Vermonters get to do that, but maybe they won't. (Sniffles) Okay, so I'm sitting 100 yards off the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain, and my feet have just divorced the rest of me. And my lips don't work any more. And the fish don't like globs of colored plastic today. But really, all this is worthwhile. You see, the lore and the legend have to be in place, so some child two generations unborn will be able to say in the middle of the next century, "Yes, my great-grandfather the flatlander, he used to fish right out there!" That's what we are, un-Vermonters, we're flatlanders. You see, I'm doing this for posterity.
I'm backing up credentials against the time when there will be a test of Real Vermonterhood. And when I've done it, and thawed out doesn't matter whether I catch a fish or not, but the doing of it is important.
When I've thought out, there will be another test. This year, I will be permitted to slog through melting snow and freezing mud to carry heavy buckets of maple sap, so that some Real Vermonter can boil it into maple syrup. That happens in March. The sap can hardly wait.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Steve Delaney lives near the shore of Lake Champlain in Milton, Vermont.



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