By Jerry Berrier
When I signed up recently to take a bus trip with my chapter of the Bay State Council of the Blind to
Boston to see an audio described theater performance, I never dreamed it would lead to a chance to
experience ice fishing. We had arranged to take the one-hour trip along with some clients of the local
branch of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and some volunteer escorts. One of the volunteers
talked her husband Joe into going along, and somehow he and I got into conversation on the way back. I
had always wondered how ice fishing was done, and when he mentioned that he ice fishes, I asked a few
questions; well, actually I asked dozens of questions. Finally Joe, who I know had had very minimal
experience with people who are blind, hesitantly asked, "Do you think you might like to go and try it some
time?" Of course I responded with great enthusiasm, but I truly never expected to hear from him again.
Often in conversation a person will casually make an offer to get together for an event or activity, but then
the business of life gets in the way, and soon the promise is forgotten. Not so with Joe, though. A few
weeks later he called me and told me when to be ready and what to wearwarm boots and gloves, and
layers of warm clothes.
I wanted to go, but I had misgivings. "What if I fall through the ice? What if I get cold or bored? What if
it's so slippery that I can't stay upright?" In retrospect though, I'll bet my ambivalence was nothing
compared to what must have been going through Joe's mind. "What if he gets hurt? No, even worse, what
if I let him get hurt? What if he doesn't like ice fishing? What if I say the wrong thing and offend him?
Even if all else goes well, what if we don't catch any fish?" Although he knew very little about me, having
met me only once, he put aside any misgivings he may have had, perhaps knowing the value of helping
another human being to experience something brand new, something that person may never have another
chance to experience. I am so grateful that there are people in the world like Joe who have the courage to
reach out when many would back away. I only hope I may be as forthcoming in my relationships with
I knew I was in for a rare good time when on the way to the pond Joe mentioned that he planned to show
me everything he could and that I would be sharing in some hard work. We spent five hours out in the
open on a frozen reservoir, with weather that included a snow shower and several brief sunny periods.
When it was calm and the sun was out, the 30 degree temperature felt balmy, but then a gust of wind would
come along to remind us that it was still winter. Joe and his son-in-law Randy, who met us there, said they
have fished many times in weather that made this day seem like springtime.
Joe's fishing equipment is kept in a large rectangular box that just fits in the rear cargo area of his truck. It
has ski-like runners underneath it so it can be pulled along like a sled. It holds everything needed for ice
fishing, including a chair, a five-foot long hand auger used to drill through the ice, and dozens of smaller
pieces of equipment. Attached to the box was a bucket of water containing "shiners", small live fish used
It had snowed a little the night before, so the walking was very easy out on the ice. I needn't have worried
about falling through, as the ice was about fourteen inches thick. Once we got to what Joe felt was a good
fishing spot, he handed me the auger, very similar to an old fashioned wood brace but much longer. It took
me 5 or 6 minutes of hard work to drill the first hole, and by then I was almost warm enough to remove my
coat. He then handed me a vertical wooden stick that had a spool of line attached near the bottom. About
half-way up the stick were cross pieces to keep it from falling through the 7-inch in diameter hole I had
drilled in the ice. The spool near the bottom was filled with 10-pound test fishing line, at the end of which
was tied a steel leader with a fishhook attached. As I learned later, pickerel have teeth and can bite through
nylon line. (Joe actually held one's mouth open so I could feel it's teeth). Attached near the top of the
vertical stick is a length of spring steel with a flag on one end. The flag is held down by a metal clip
attached to a mechanism that releases it when something begins pulling on the line. Each licensed
fisherman is permitted to set up five tilts, and they keep a close watch on them all. When a flag pops up,
they jump up and hurry over to see what is happening.
Joe and I placed his 5 tilts in a circle about 30 feet apart. Pretty soon Randy, who was attending to his own
tilts some distance away, yelled "FLAG!". Joe looked where Randy was pointing and then he and I rushed
over to the spot. I knelt down to examine the tilt, and I could feel it vibrating as line was rapidly being
pulled off the spool by a hungry fish. Following Joe's instruction, I waited to give the fish a chance to
swim a distance with the bait, then I carefully lifted the tilt out of the hole and laid it on the ice while
allowing the line to continue to slip through my fingers. When the time seemed right, I gave a quick jerk
upward on the line to set the hook. Ah yes, something was still pulling and jerking on the line. I then
began pulling the line by hand up through the hole in the ice and eventually hauled up a nice pickerel about
15 inches long.
I don't know who was more excited, Joe or I. I held the line up, dangling the fish while Joe took a picture,
and then he deftly removed the hook from the fish's mouth and carefully dropped the creature back down
through the hole where it could resume its comfortable life in the frigid water.
Between the three of us, we caught several more pickerel and one good-sized bass. When things got quiet,
we sat on lawn chairs and consumed the food and hot drinks we had brought with us, but each time
someone called "Flag", off we went to check out a tilt. Sometimes it was a false alarm; maybe a gust of
wind caused the flag to pop up, or maybe something tugged at the line and then thought better of it. More
often than not though, an upright flag meant another fish was about to make our acquaintance.
I don't know if I would ever become an avid ice fisherman like Joe, but I certainly enjoyed myself out there
in spite of, no, partly because of, the wind and changeable weather. I had a great time out there on the ice,
but what I really want to say is that Joe's willingness to share his time and his love of ice fishing with me
reminded me how precious human relationships are and that I also have a responsibility to reach out and
share my own experience and passions with others.
Things could have gone differently. Joe could have forgotten to ever call me to invite me. I could have
avoided taking any risk by declining his invitation. Joe and Randy weren't quite sure what to expect on
this fishing trip, and neither was I, but all three of us were willing to step just a bit beyond our own comfort
zones to experience something new. It was cold out there on the ice, but that experience was one of the
warmest I have had in quite a while. I'll bet I could talk them into taking me ice fishing with them again
one of these days!