- Cat Cutillo
- Sam Coleman helps his sons, George, 3, and Charlie, 8, ice fish with a jigging rod.
On Super Bowl Sunday, 35 dads and kids braved single-digit temperatures to learn how to ice fish on Indian Brook Reservoir in Essex.
“Never take ice for granted,” instructor Michael Santos told the group. Before leading them onto the ice, Santos used a spud bar— a long pole with a chisel at the bottom — to strike the ice to determine if it was thick enough. He then drilled his first hole and measured the distance to the water with a scoop. Ice needs to be at least four inches thick to be safe. This ice, he estimated, was 18 inches. Now, they all just needed to be careful not to slip, Santos said, or to step in one of the holes that had already been drilled. “That’s a very quick way to end the day,” he said.
- Cat Cutillo
- Michael Santos demonstrates drilling a hole in the ice.
Santos is a new volunteer instructor in the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s Let’s Go Fishing Program. He taught two clinics on this day for Dad Guild, a nonprofit organization that provides a supportive network for fathers in the greater Burlington region. A father of two himself, Santos learned about the group when he saw a flier at his daughter’s preschool. He wondered if other dads might like to learn to ice fish. So he asked them in a post on the Dad Guild Facebook page, and the response was an emphatic “yes.”
The clinics were back-to-back: one at 9 a.m. and the second at 11 a.m. Most dads brought their kids, but a few attended solo so they could learn the skills first.
Participants walked to the middle of the ice where Santos had a table set up with pre-baited jigging rods, which are short poles used for ice fishing. Tip ups stood over a couple of holes. The device holds a baited line and alerts fishermen when there’s a bite. For anyone who got too cold, a pop-up warming tent stood ready.
Justin Tuthill of Essex brought his sons Griffin, 6, and Ben, 11, to the 9 a.m. clinic. Although they didn’t catch any fish, Ben didn’t want to leave and stayed late to help bait hooks for the next group. Griffin’s favorite part was drilling holes with the hand operated ice auger.
The goal of Dad Guild, and its outings like this, is to foster experiences where dads and kids can make new memories together and create “a story that stays with you for the rest of your life,” Dad Guild executive director and Kids VT contributor Keegan Albaugh said.
Fishing can do that, said Santos, an Essex resident who grew up fishing in Miami and learned to love ice fishing after he moved to Colorado. “Fishing brings time to sit down, unplug, move away from the screen and have those conversations while you’re waiting for a fish that may never bite,” he said.
- Cat Cutillo
- Michael Santos lead the ice fishing clinic alongside assistant volunteer Joe Bartlett.
Let’s Go Fishing offers about 200 free clinics year-round. The Fish & Wildlife Department supplies the equipment and participants don’t need a fishing license. Kids are welcome at any clinic. Fishing offers tangible education in science, math and problem solving, said Alison Thomas, Fish & Wildlife’s outreach director and education programs coordinator. “You’re not in a classroom; you’re living it. You might get a fish that you could filet and eat which is so memorable, healthy and sustainable. If your family eats meat, that’s a great way to be connected to that food source,” said Thomas. “If you fish a body of water, you will forever have a stronger connection to it and a strong care for it. That’s a guarantee.”
- Cat Cutillo
- Sam Coleman helps his 3-year-old son, George, ice fish with a jigging rod.
Joe Lemnah of Jericho brought his son, Cooper, 8, to the 9 a.m. clinic. “We were out there for two hours and didn’t find anything and right at the end, poof, caught a fish,” said Lemnah. It ended up being the only catch of the day for both clinics.
“I wanted to keep it as my pet,” said Cooper. Instead, he and his dad released it. Lemnah joked it was so cold he almost stole his son’s hand warmers but, he said, they’ll definitely try ice fishing again.
- Joe Lemnah and his son, Cooper, of Jericho caught the only fish of the day.
“You always leave feeling better,” Thomas said. “You don’t always go to the movies [and feel] better after.” Ice fishing is different, she said, “Even if it’s really cold, you still get back and think, ‘That was horrible. I loved it.’ That’s the magic of the outdoors: Even when it’s hard, it’s fulfilling.”