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To fish, or not to fish, the ice is the question

Scott and I were driving by Dunhams Bay on Lake George a week or so after Christmas and we noticed that there was a thin layer of ice forming already. I dont see any ice fishermen out there yet, Scott said. I looked out over the ice, seeing that much of it didnt even reach the shore yet, and rolled my eyes. Ice is a tricky thing, and Ive always marveled at how most ice fishermen seem to instinctively know when its ok to venture out to dig a hole and fish. Or drive their two-ton, four-wheel-drive pickup truck with a shanty in the back, out on the ice to dig a hole and fish. Is there one ice fisherman for each lake who knows when its safe to go out, drill a hole, and give the A-OK for the rest of the gang? Ive seen ice fishermen out on the lake in late spring when the temperature is 50 degrees, and I just waited for them to sink. They didnt. I commented to a fellow bystander that these guys didnt seem like the brightest bulbs on the tree. Yeah, they oughta have a halfway house for idiots for these guys, he said and we all had a laugh. But whos the fool here? Did those dim bulbs out there know something that we didnt? Thats not to say they dont ever sink. We always hear about people, snowmobiles, cars and ATVs going through the ice. But are these seasoned ice fishermen, or just hapless tourists, out for a thrilling ride across the frozen lake? Do the ice fishermen know something that the rest of us dont about when its safe, and when its not to venture out onto the frozen, wind-swept tundra of an Adirondack lake in winter? I think its a secret. I think that most ice fishermen are men, and theyve closed ranks, to keep any rookies from finding their best fishing spots, so they can get there first, when the ice is just right - not too thick, not too thin - just enough to keep the rookies off, but thick enough allow those in the know to go out and have at it. Not being a fisherperson, especially when you have to drill through solid ice to do it, Ive never understood the finer points of ice fishing. Years ago, a Vermont ice fisherman told me it was great fun. We all go out with our shanties and tip ups and beer, and sit there and fish and drink and yak, he said. And we get away from our wives. Being a wife, I wasnt thrilled with this description, but happily, my husband isnt an ice fisherman. Dont get me wrong. I like to walk around on frozen lakes just as much as any downstater. Theres something fun about walking where you could only float before. But Im always pretty cautious before I go out; there has to be someone out there heavier than me before Ill take those first steps. I remember a few years ago, an Australian friend had heard about the Lake George Winter Carnival. So do you actually walk out on the ice? she asked me. Not only do we walk out, but they drive their cars and trucks out, and race around on it. She paled, imagining people and vehicles falling through huge cracks in the lake. We never saw her out on the ice. I should ask my boss, John Gereau, about this. He loves to fish any time of year, including in winter, on the ice. But I believe hes also sunk a snowmobile or two, so maybe he doesnt know the secret of the ice. Well, unless someone is willing to give up the secret of the ice, Ill stick by my rules; let the big guys go out there first.

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