Thoughts of my dad stir memories of an unforgettable ice fishing outing

·3 min read

Jan. 20—It's hard not to get a little nostalgic today. It was exactly 28 years ago that my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 58.

Bill Warner, a 36-year member of the Bangor Daily News sports staff, gave me an appreciation for many things. Not the least of those is a love of baseball.

On a handful of occasions, he took me ice fishing. So today I'm looking back fondly on one of those experiences.

Dad enjoyed fishing at our camp on Sebago Lake. In the heat of the summer. When he could shed his shirt during the troll, then arrive back at the beach and take a swim.

In contrast, I don't believe he owned a single piece of ice fishing gear, except maybe some of the ice cleats to put on your boots to improve footing. Instead, I assume he called his brother, Ken Warner, for the necessary equipment.

Ken, who for 50 years was a fisheries biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, would have had everything we needed.

My favorite ice fishing memory comes from my youth. When I was 8 or 9, I accompanied dad and uncle Ken on a visit to Tunk Lake in Sullivan.

It was one of the coldest, yet coolest, days I have ever experienced. It was frigid and windy upon our arrival. I'm certain the wind chill must have been below zero.

There we hooked up with Owen Fenderson, one of Ken's colleagues at DIF&W, and his sons, Mike and Miles.

The lake was glare ice. Thinking back, if you had hit a golf ball from the shore, it may well have bounced and rolled all the way to the other side (with the wind, at least).

And while the conditions made walking and toting a sled and the ice fishing gear across the lake a bit treacherous for the adults, we kids had a blast.

We would get up a head of steam running — as best we could given the traction provided by our rubber Pac boots — and dive headlong onto the ice, sliding for long distances on the glassy surface.

It was an effective way to keep warm heading across Tunk, into the teeth of a bitter and relentless wind. Somewhere, in a box of old VHS tapes, we have a home movie showing some of those antics.

I don't recall there being many flags that day, other than when the traps were tripped by the wind. My foggy memory does seem to recall one of the Fenderson boys pulling a fish through the ice.

You'll have to forgive me, it has been 50 years or so.

One thing I do remember vividly is the effort to build a small fire in the shelter of the shoreline. It was a challenge, especially with the wind, but it was sufficient to get some hot dogs to the lukewarm stage. And we happily wolfed them down.

By day's end we were all exhausted, the kids from running around and playing, the adults from drilling the holes, tending traps and hauling the gear. We were not terribly disappointed when the decision was made to pull the traps and make our way out.

Once back in Ken's car — I believe it was a late-'60s Chevy Bel Aire with the shift on the steering column — we chatted about the outing as we unthawed on the ride home.

Rather than lament the lack of fish caught, we soaked in the heat and took some sense of pride in having been able to withstand the elements and still have some fun on the ice.