Well with Christmas over and the New Year beginning, and my knees getting stiffer by the day, I get thinking of how our area and our lives have changed.
When I was a kid, right about now with the hunting seasons, except for the rabbit season, drawing to a close, my friends and I would start thinking about ice fishing. Sometimes we got new ice fishing equipment for Christmas or we might just start redoing our old ice traps and sharpening our ice chisels.
The sport of ice fishing for us mostly took place on one of three ponds. Ames Pond in Tewksbury was named after Civil War General Adelbert Ames, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor. The pond was formed by damming up a local brook. Another pond was Round Pond, which is where I caught my first eel while ice fishing. My Dad taught me how to skin an eel and how tasty they could be when fried. Last, but certainly not least, was Long Pond in Tewksbury, also known to the locals as Mud Pond. As a matter of fact, my parents’ house was about 200 yards from the pond and I must have been 12 years old before I realized that Mud Pond on the map was really Long Pond. Between the three ponds, ice fishing kept us busy during the winter and we could combine ice-skating and ice fishing. We could skate from trap to trap.
Then there were the fires on the ice to warm up by or to cook a hot dog for lunch on. For the most part, nobody ever bothered us about a fire, except once some do-gooder came by in a car, pulled over, and demanded that we put the fire out. I don’t even know who he was, so we explained to him that the pond wasn’t very combustible and he should be a do-gooder elsewhere. I’ve never liked people who can’t mind their own business.
I kind of feel sorry for kids who are growing up now. As far as I know, the only one of the three ponds that is accessible is Long Pond and I suppose if you wanted to make a fire on the ice nowadays, you’d need Senate approval or a special permit from Congress.
Ames Pond was a great place for ice fishing. There was a large population of Black Crappie, which is delicious when boned and fried. There was also some good size Largemouth Bass. One time I saw a man take a 5 pounder through the ice. If you see Ames Pond now with all the houses, it’s hard to imagine how pretty it once was.
Now Round Pond is not far from the center of town, and that also is no long accessible unless you know one of the homeowners on the pond. But when I was a kid, the pond held some great pickerel and it was easy to get to. I hate to see the town being built up the way it is. The town used to be rural and kids could entertain themselves in the outdoors. I’m afraid that this is being lost. No wonder kids are glued to cell phones and video games.
Now to get back to ice fishing and winter sports. Nowhere took up as much of my time as Long Pond, or as we always called it, Mud Pond.
To my brother, Bob, our lifelong friends Win and Gary, and I, this was our home away from home. It gave us fishing in the summer, duck hunting in the fall, and ice fishing and skating in the winter. To kids growing up in a then rural town, what more could you ask?
One of my most vivid memories is what I’ll call the “Great Bean Explosion”. Now I don’t think there was much about it in the papers or in the town’s history, but I was there and I can tell you, it was quite the experience. My buddy, Win, and I were picking up our ice traps after an afternoon’s fishing, when two young boys came out on the ice. They looked like they just stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalog. They had both received new winter outfits and new ice fishing gear for Christmas. The problem was that they didn’t know very much about how to use it.
They seemed like nice kids, so we helped them get started. Now again, these were nice kids, but I think these kids were the world’s first yuppies. I mean, I don’t dress that fancy for church. After we got them started, we were going to leave and we told them they could use our fire to keep warm or heat up a snack. One of them had a can of beans and asked how to cook them. I told him to just punch a hole in the can to let out the pressure and set it in the fire.
We hadn’t gone very far when we heard a big kaboom. We spun around to see the two young outdoorsmen covered with beans and staring at each other with their mouths open. Well, God was with them as neither of them were injured, only their pride. One of them told me he forgot to put a hole in the can. I had already figured that! I thought it might be a good time to get a good buy on their ice fishing gear, but didn’t have the heart to. We never saw them fishing again. I think they took up golf or ping-pong or something.
Another time, right before dark, one of us got a big pickerel. As it was getting dark, we picked up our traps and threw the pickerel in a pail and headed home. Well, our house was only 200 yards from the pond and when we got home we brought the fish in the house to show my Dad.
As luck would have it, the fish was still alive, and we decided to put cold water in the bathtub and watch the fish. He was 24 inches long. Now, a pickerel has big teeth and he was not about to make a good pet. Finally, Dad said, “Okay, get him out of there”. Well, that pickerel tried to bite me repeatedly when I tried to remove him. Mom finally came in and handed me her rolling pin and a crack on the head calmed him right down. Come to think of it, Mom’s rolling pin ended a lot of disputes in our house.
Well, I could go on forever, but I think you’ve suffered enough for now. Happy New Year!