“Sukkot” in Maine

An ice shack on a frozen lake January 2011 (click to enlarge)

Maine is known for its fishing; the fact that the lakes and ponds freeze over does not stop anyone.  Ice fishing is a very popular sport and hobby; several towns and ice fishing clubs hold “ice fishing derbies” and people compete for the most and largest fish caught.  Depending on the lake, the varieties of fish caught include trout, salmon, perch, largemouth bass, pike, pickerel, togue and splake.  Personally I don’t know much about ice fishing because I have yet to venture out on the ice and ask a devotee to explain the whole concept to me.

For one thing, there are few women into ice fishing.  That’s because it tends to be one of those “male bonding” things (which usually involve lots of beer and televised sports).  So you can kind of understand what’s been keeping your Intrepid Reporter from knocking on the door of an ice shack and peeping inside.  That, and the below-zero temperatures.

First you chop a hole in the ice.  It’s not that easy when the ice is 3″ – 12″ thick. This link on youtube shows someone drilling with an augur:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMwNuBR450E&feature Fishing lines are laid in the hole, in the water, and then it’s a matter of waiting until the fish bite.  This requires checking of the lines every few hours.  You can’t just let the lines sit for a day or two; the ice must continually be broken up so the hole won’t freeze over.

I spoke to one woman whose son and husband go ice fishing.  (“I’m not into it,” she told me, “I think it’s boring.”)  Obviously it’s not real interesting twiddling one’s mittened thumbs in zero-degree temperatures for several hours waiting for the fish to bite.  To combat the boredom and the cold, many people build or buy ice shacks.

If it weren’t for the flat roof, ice shacks look identical to the sukkah that Jews use in October.  It almost makes me think that Mainers must have been one of the 10 lost tribes, and somehow their ice shacks evolved from this tradition.  From what I’ve been told of the fancier ice shacks, their interiors sport a sofa, propane stove, and a satellite-enabled television, where men sit drinking beer and watching football, ice hockey and basketball games and talking about whatever men talk about as they bond, warmed by portable heaters.  The shacks are unloaded on the ice via pickup trucks or snowmobiles, who tow them with ski runners on the shacks, whose weight is amazingly supported by the thick ice as they drive out on the lake in search of the perfect spot.    Here is a youtube video of an ice shack being hauled out onto a frozen lake:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2D_Bv20bAQ&feature Of course every year there are always stories of pickup trucks and shacks that venture out a little too early in the season when the ice isn’t quite thick enough, or wait a little too long at the end of the season when the ice starts to melt, and they fall through the ice.

Most of the shacks are pretty basic, just a simple door and four walls of plywood banged together.  The more luxurious ones are larger, have windows, and may be decorated or painted on the outside.

This is a nice report on one Mainer’s ice shack:

From the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, comes the following information about ice safety:

“Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky.”

The ice traveler should look for bluish ice that is at least 4 to 6 inches thick, in order to support people and their gear. Even if the weather has been below freezing for several days, don’t guess about ice thickness. Check ice in several places. Use an auger, spud, or axe to make a test hole, beginning at shore and continuing as you go out.

If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Don’t go on the ice during thaws. Watch out for thin, clear or honeycomb-shaped ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.

Choose small bodies of water. Rivers and lakes are prone to wind and wave action, which can break up ice quickly. Avoid areas with currents, around bridges and pressure ridges.

In the wintertime, outdoor enthusiasts frequently need to know how thick the ice is and whether it is safe to walk across it.The American Pulpwood Association has published a handy reference chart that gives a good rule-of-thumb for ponds and lake ice thickness.

The chart below is for clear, blue ice on lakes. Reduce the strength values by 15% for clear blue river ice. Slush ice is only one-half the strength of blue ice. This table does not apply for parked loads.

“Wait for a long cold spell, then test the ice thoroughly.

Ice Thickness Chart

Ice Thickness
(in inches)

Permissible Load – Clear, Blue Lake Ice
(Reduce strength values for other types of ice)

2

One person on foot

3

Group of people walking single file

7 1/2

Passenger car (2 ton gross)

8

Light truck (2 1/2 ton gross)

10

Medium truck (3 1/2 ton gross)

12

Heavy truck ( 7 – 8 ton gross)

15

Heavy truck ( 10 ton gross)

20

25 tons

25

45 tons

30

70 tons

36

110 tons

What if I break through the ice?

If you break through the ice, don’t panic.

  • Don’t try to climb out – you’ll 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, plank, or rope; or form a human chain. Don’t stand. After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to the solid ice.
  • The victim may need treatment for hypothermia (cold exposure), artificial respiration or CPR

“If your feet are cold, put on your hat.”

  • That may seem odd, but it’s good advice. Most of our body heat is lost through your head and neck. So wear a hat and cover your face and neck.
  • Dress in layers. Wool, silk and certain synthetics are best; they’ll keep you warm even if they’re wet.
  • Insulated, waterproof boots, gloves and a windbreaker are very important. Take extra clothing.
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