Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Use your brains displaying guns
First of all, the practice of carrying long guns stacked in the window of pickup trucks is now pretty rare. If you do this, it's only flaunting our rights and making non-sportsmen more aggressive in their efforts to curtail legal gun ownership. Just don't do it. If you are taking a pistol, revolver or long gun to a gun show or gun shop, please do so with the firearm in a case. That does ease the tension of people who have fear of any and all guns.
Although it is perfectly legal in New Hampshire to carry a non-concealed and even loaded firearm in public, doing so is a disservice to all gun owners. We know a lot of people who are practically scared to death at the sight of a gun. And some of these people are influential enough to bring pressure to bear against our gun rights. Just use your brains.
When hunting, spend as little time possible as you can walking public roads while armed - or, for that matter, anywhere the general public can view you with a gun. We're up against a stacked deck right now and will have to bend a bit and be far more conservative with our firearm activities.
Enough of that preaching.
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RIGHT NOW, the Great Bay is ice free, creating an ice fishing problem that seems to have become the new normal. For the last 10 years, we've seen fewer days with enough safe ice to smelt fish on, and too many years there's been no ice at all on the bay itself and darned little on the tributaries such as the Squamscott River (aka the Exeter River), the Lamprey River and the Oyster River.
Because these rivers are sheltered from the sweep of wind that the bay itself is exposed to, we often see some limited fishing opportunities on them, but that doesn't mean that they are always safe. As a matter of fact, at the Squamscott River in Stratham, utilizing a planked temporary bridge that enables anglers to access the ice pack has started to become standard procedure there.
But incidents of smelt fishermen getting a dunking after getting on the ice there, even with the planks, are quite common. Luckily, this happens close enough to shore that there haven't been any drownings, but that isn't to say it couldn't happen. Even in Exeter, where good ice is often available right off the town's parking and boat-launching area, getting on and off the ice is a sticky situation when there's insufficient shore ice.
We've lived on the shores of Great Bay since 1967. It was traditional for us to spend New Year's Eve out on the ice huddled in a warm smelt "shanty." For many years, we could leave our house and either walk or snowmobile a short distance to our semi-permanent shanty. We never dreamed that this would become impossible because of lack of ice, but there hasn't been enough solid ice off of our home for about 20 years to support fishing here.
Greenland Bay was a place where hundreds of shanties would dot the ice for at least two months, often starting the second or third week in December and ending in mid-March. Last year, though, there was no fishable ice in Greenland Bay, and this followed several years of either no ice or only a few days of safe ice.
In spite of the poor ice, we've been able to spend a day or two over on the Oyster River, right off Durham's Town Landing on Landing Road. This is the safest and easiest place to smelt fish, but don't take this as a sure bet, as we've been wet to the waist there a couple of times, breaking through thin ice. When we fish there, it's only after noting other people out on the ice. We never step onto the ice without seeing that other people have been able to do so.
Two other good features of fishing on the Oyster River: There's almost always plenty of free parking, and there's usually plenty of old fishing holes that are easily cleaned out to reveal a couple of inches of new ice. What's more, it doesn't take a day's commitment to ice-fish there. We've often pulled into the parking lot, dragged out an ice-fishing sled carrying our fishing gear and a built-on seat, found a fishable hole, and fished for an hour or two, in between other less-fun chores.
Don't expect to fill a bucket of smelt there. We're usually happy with enough for a meal, but the couple of enjoyable hours spent out there has sustained us.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.