My wife and I recently bought a new camp. It sits out on a point and you can see Upper Lead Mountain Pond out three sides. On our first weekend there I got up early, set my icefishing traps, and sat at the camp table with a strong cup of coffee, everyone else was asleep. My mind drifted back to one of the last fishing trips I took with my grandfather. I was about 16 years old.
We loaded up his car in Sanford, Maine and headed to a camp on Springy Pond, east of Bangor. The camp belonged to my grandfather’s brother David Brooks. We were going to meet David, as well as another one of my grandfather’s brothers, Bob Brooks, and a cousin Bob LeBretton. We arrived at camp to find three men well into their cups, and a camp that was somewhere north of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. These men liked their camp hot.
The next morning out we ventured onto the frozen pond. My grandfather’s auger sputtered and smoked and eventually fired. He drilled one hole, handed it to me and said, “it’s running good, drill the rest.” I was quick to figure that was twenty-five holes through two feet of ice. As I finished drilling hole number two of twenty-five, I turned to find my party of mentors going back inside. It had been ten minutes since they put logs on the fire, I’m sure they were concerned it had dropped below the minimum 90-degree mark.
Determined to show my manliness, I drilled all the holes and went to setting my traps. With the buzz of the old Jiffy still ringing in my ears, and through the haze of two stroke smoke hanging over the pond I saw the party of three come back outside. They quickly set their traps and back in they went. I followed wondering if they even put bait on their hooks.
Inside I was greeted by the amazing smell of Uncle Bob’s potato friccus cooking in cast iron on the glowing wood stove, and bacon and eggs sizzling on the stove top as I thawed out. Staring out the window I eagerly awaited our first flag. No one else even bothered to look, weird. Just about the time I was supposed to eat, Gramps directed me to go check the bait in the bait tank. David had a brilliant set up to keep his bait alive and fresh. A stream along the side of his camp flowed into a 55-gallon drum tipped on its side, and out the other side. A door cut in the top with a light bulb was enough to keep it from freezing. Screens at the inlet and outlet kept the bait from making a break for it, which I was debating doing except I had no idea where I was, or how to get back to Sanford.
I checked the bait. The shiners seemed to be having more fun than me. I went back inside to report to my tormentors all was well. I got a semi warm breakfast, and was asked by the two Bobs if I brought any money? I thought back to my preparation for the trip. Right before I got in the car my grandmother handed me a Tupperware bowl filled with loose change. She said, “in case I need it.” Why in the hell would I need five dollars in nickels and dimes, I’m sure she kept the quarters. Was my grandmother in on this initiation to Brooks manhood? As soon as I answered the two Bobs that I had some change a deck of cards was produced.
What followed was nothing short of a robbery. The three men I was so eager to learn the secrets of icefishing from didn’t teach me anything at all to do with icefishing. Slowly they whittled away at my Tupperware container while at the same time asking me to fetch drinks, bring wood in from the outside, or check for flags, they never looked. Just about the time I was down to a few dirty nickels I was asked to go skim the holes. Skimming the holes for people that don’t icefish means going and cleaning out the newly built up ice around the traps. The first time I asked if they wanted me to check their bait, they said in unison, “no.” Weird.
As the afternoon went on I began to realize that every time I was sent out to do a chore I would return to find a few more coins in my precious bank made of molded plastic. I was on to them. They were sending me out to give me a few coins to keep me in the game. I listened to them talk about growing up in Orono, and getting in fights behind Pat’s pizza with the college boys. I listened to them talk about their successes and their failures, and their what if’s. Somewhere late in the day one of the Bobs gave me a beer, gramps gave me one of his favorite lines, “don’t tell your grandmother.” At the end of the day they took all my money. The sun was going down quick. We went outside and took some pictures. I’m guessing to prove that we actually went to the camp, we didn’t have any fish. They actually picked up their own traps, I know now it was probably because they didn’t want me to know there was no bait on their hooks. We went inside and I heard more stories. I fell asleep to the sound of three men snoring the night away.
Early the next morning we parted ways. Gramps and I kind of grew apart over the rest of my teenage years. I will forever regret that. I was a teenage boy filled with piss and vinegar, making my own memories that I may share someday while sitting at the camp table. Telling another one of the Brooks descendants to go fill the wood box. While he’s away I may drop a few dimes in his Tupperware to teach him about life, but I may include a little fishing lesson too.
Authors note: They may have drilled more than one hole, they may have baited their hooks, but I get to write it as I remember it because they took my money. An indisputable fact is we never caught a fish.
*Don’t miss the opportunity to have these moments. You’re never too busy to take a few days for an adventure. Don’t know where to start, hire a guide, you won’t regret it.