Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Ice fishing in Maine and good food
A few weeks ago we ice fished on a small Maine pond with my friend of many years, Master Maine Guide Stu Bristol of Lyman, Maine and my grandson. Stu and I have shared a lot of time out in the great outdoors, but this was only the second time we'd ice fished together.
When my grandson, Nate Griffin, now a grown married man with his own son, was about four-years-old the first time he went out with me on the ice. Out on the cold and windy ice with him as a grown man and me getting a bit long in the tooth, I had to laugh when the realization that we'd changed rolls came to mind.
It was only four above when we reached this small pond that Stu had fished in open water season and had good luck on both panfish and some good sized brook trout. The wind was brutal and along with the low temperature we had to take shelter behind a huge ice shanty that was unmanned and just a scant 30 feet offshore. It was so miserable that without that shanty as a windbreak we would have probably sat in the vehicles and watched for flags on our tip-ups but with the sun in our face and shelter from the wind, it was bearable out on the ice.
Nate cut our holes in the ice with a hand auger for our tip-ups while Stu and his longtime friend and sporting companion Peewee (Raymond Grenier) used a slow-to-start power auger. Nate being a former semi-pro football player and power-lifter could dig two holes to their one, he with the manual auger. But it was so cold we put our less than our limit of five per person and to tell you the truth, this old timer never had to touch any one of them as Nate gracefully volunteered to do the job. My hands were too cold to even try to help but it was pretty grateful to see what kind of a man that his grandfather had helped to mold.!
We always hit on Stu's Master Guide status and he takes it pretty well but this time we couldn't help but be in wonder of how quickly he set up his cooking rig in the wind-free area behind the huge shanty. It only took him a scant few minutes to set up a rig that had his two small charcoal stoves off the ice enough so there'd be no ice melt, something that used to plague me all the time. He did it simply with a three-foot piece of metal rod shelving suspended off the ice with small steel rods. In between the two charcoal stoves he was able to lay out all the condiments for hot dogs as well as the rolls and his real plates and tableware.
He explained that he'd stopped using those small bottles of propane because they wouldn't light in cold weather and his match-ready charcoal was hotter and much quicker. Although the charcoal didn't need it if you had the patience, Stu dowsed them down with a spray of charcoal lighter fluid and we were cooking Maine's famous red hot dogs and toasting rolls on the two grills within a few minutes of his lighting the grills. I'll have to admit that they were some of the best food we'd eaten in a long time and they helped to put some fire in the belly.
A couple of hours later it was Stu up to the bat again, asking how we liked out venison cooked. He had two plastic bags of both moose and deer venison along with another plastic bag of cut up onion and green pepper. Using a cast iron oblong griddle he quickly had the venison sizzling in a mixture of olive oil and real butter and soon had added the onion and green pepper mix, covering it all with an aluminum throw-away cook pan.
We all dove into that meat and veggies with abandon and we all went back for seconds. "I've had this griddle for several years and know enough to never wash it with soap and water. Once you get it seasoned you just scrape all the crusty stuff off with a scraper and just rinse it with water. Then I heat it up and put some olive oil on it, let it cool and it's ready to go again," he answered my obvious question.
Stu had also brought a pan of homemade brownies he'd cooked the previous night. You've never eaten an awesome brownie until you've plucked one off a charcoal grill just as it starts to show meltdown. That whole pan of brownies disappeared in the wink of an eye.
When it came time to break his cooking rig down, it took only about five minutes. He had ziplock plastic bags for the dirty plates and utensils and had a large tote that everything just fit in nicely and was light enough for one man to lift and put in the back of Peewee's pickup.
Don't ask about the fish. They too must have been frozen.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.