IT’S HARD for me to accept, but we’re looking at a Great Bay that for a couple of days showed progress at creating some ice fishing opportunities. Right now there’s no ice in sight and the weather forecast isn’t that encouraging as it looks like warm weather will be with us for a few more days. No fun!
We don’t have to say much about global warming as those that just are either denying its existence or saying that it’s just a “fluke” better face the realities. It’s here and it’s kicking our butts when it comes to ice fishing, especially the warmer water temperatures of coastal tidal flows!
Years ago, in our late teens, we used to celebrate our New Year’s evening by ice fishing Great Bay. Saltwater smelts were our target and many times we’d come off the ice at daylight with more smelt than you could carry so myself and my buddy, most probably Brad Conner of Greenland, had so many pounds of smelt that to bring them ashore we had to load them on a sled or toboggan and tow them in, unless one of us or a neighboring angler had a snowmobile that would to do the chore for us.
Back then we were semi-commercially fishing for smelt. If we caught more than we could consume in our extended families, we’d always find a market for fresh caught-Great Bay smelt at any one of the fish markets in the Seacoast. It was a bargain for them because fresh-caught Great Bay smelts were a very much valued fish for home consumption and there also were several of the small diners that would purchase our smelt and have a great following that were eager to have the opportunity to indulge in a great feed of fried Great Bay smelt.
The usual method of preparing and cooking the smelt that both individuals and restaurants used was to dip them in flour and often crumbs and frying them in good hot fat —usually Crisco or lard. Either one produced a fried smelt that just couldn’t be beat by any other method.
Being somewhat organic in my family, we delighted in not using anything else besides lard, even though we had some suspicion that lard was not the ideal thing for keeping our circulation system clean. But in those days we were not particularly afraid of what we were doing to our health when it came to our menus!
Right now we’re looking out my office window at a Great Bay that doesn’t have a wink of ice on its surface! When we first moved onto the shoreline of Great Bay, at this time of year there would be enough ice on the Bay that you could drive a Mack truck out on it! Today, halfway toward spring, there is no sight of any ice. The small amount of surface ice had melted in the last couple of days!
Anyone that denies the existence of “global warming” must have their head in a sand bag (we decided to be clean and not to mention other places that you could have your head stuck!)
Truthfully, we hate winters that don’t have enough cold weather to accommodate ice fishing on Great Bay. We’re 80 years old and for much of those many years we spent a good deal of our leisure time out on the ice, mostly smelt fishing but also finding a good place to take a walk or snowmobile trip. We often would jump on our machine and drive around to visit the dozens of fishing “shanties” out on the ice to see how the smelt were biting. If they were, we abandoned any other thoughts except how fast could we get our smelt fishing gear and shanty out on the ice!
Great Bay smelting was kind of a worldwide magnet for ice anglers. We once made the very bold headlines of the London Times with news about how great the smelt run was here! We don’t remember any big surge of those funny-speaking Englishmen being enticed to come here to fish, but it was a big ego-builder for this young writer to make the headlines of that very world-respected newspaper!
We kind of think that the great smelt fishing of those years gone by have also gone by. The use of chemicals in treating the sewerage effluent that is emptied into the Piscataqua River and other rivers entering the Great Bay system has just about poisoned every kind of living thing that Great Bay was famous for, including the fields of tidal eel grass that hosted much of the small hatchlings and small minnows.
Those were the years my friends. We thought they’d never end!