Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Remembering icy adventures on Great Bay

By DICK PINNEY December 31. 2017 12:14AM
Great Bay, in the warmer part of the year. 

For years, it was a sure bet that ice-smelt fishing would be in full gear here on Great Bay. But for the last few years it's been hit-or miss, at best, because weather conditions haven't supported it.

For years and years we celebrated New Year's Day (and night) out on the safe ice on Great Bay, fishing for the saltwater smelt that were so delicious and a lot of fun when a school of them would swarm your multiple hook baits that hung in a troth-like cut in the ice.

This system apparently has been handed down for many generations. All we can ever remember is those folks who had "smelt shanties" would have several lines suspended from a removable bar in front of where they sat. Most of these old-time smelt fishermen would have at least three or four lines set at various depths baited with the local favorite - sea worms.

Small cork bobbers were there as signals that a smelt had grabbed your bait. It was hard to see a "bite" without the bobbers. As soon as a pattern was established as to what depth the smelt were feeding, it was wise to move most of your lines to that depth. When the bite was really on, most of us would fish only a couple of lines to reduce the tangling that more lines would create.

The veteran smelt anglers would always have extra lines set up and lots of bait cut into a little less than an inch in length to use when a real "blitz" would occur.

Even with only two or three active baited lines in the water, if there was a school of hungry smelt under your "fishing shanty," it was all you could handle. And by handling, we mean just yanking the hook out of the smelt's mouth and flinging our catch into a canvas bag that was pretty good at keeping them fairly wet and in good shape to clean and eat when we got home.

With a good catch often exceeding 100 fish, you had no time to clean fish as you caught them. You had to say, "Make hay while the time is right!"

Our first adventure out on the Great Bay ice was a disaster, so bad that two veteran fishermen set up near where we were trying to fish had dropped their gear and came over and gave us a lecture. It was not all as friendly and educational as it could have been, but we slowed down on the errors and picked up on the right things we should have been doing.

We're not sure if this was kind of overkill that these vet-smelt anglers perceived that the noise we made in pounding out fishing holes and moving gear around on the ice was affecting their success, but these guys were old, grizzled veterans. They knew the right way to do it and were also quick to stand you up straight and give you the devil for messing up their day!

The night I remember most as a rookie nighttime smelt fishermen was when I'd been invited to use a shanty that belonged to my friend Brad and his dad. The night almost ended with a very serious event.

The Dickster had absolutely no experience with those Coleman lanterns that were the universal lighting and heating source of these Great Bay smelt shacks. Brad and his dad tried to show me how to fill their lantern outside their smelt shack with white gas. But the process of doing this outside apparently didn't sink into my stubborn mind!

Fishing alone in their shanty for the first time, I watched the lantern grow dimmer and dimmer so we thought it was a good time to refill it. NOT RIGHT!

Inside the shanty and holding the lantern with one hand and tipping the two gallon can of fuel into a small funnel that was stuck into the fuel tank, we watched a little stream of flame climb down the side of the lantern's glass chimney and then the whole thing went BANG and luckily my quick response of tossing it out the door prevented me from getting serious burns, but I was missing a few hairs and had short eyebrows!

The lantern's glass shattered and the whole thing was a burning inferno!

That quickly ended my first experience with both nighttime smelt ice fishing and handling lanterns. And there would be no second experience of using their shanty and gear unless one of them was with me.

Luckily the shanty had escaped with only a few black burn marks but the lantern was toast.

We eagerly and quickly paid them for their loss and vowed to never again try anything like that without proper guidance by experienced people.

Since then, we've walked a big circle around anything that has liquid fuels that needs to be filled, re-lit or adjusted for any reason.

And, needless to say, using another person's fishing shanty was not on our agenda. Word quickly spread over the ice at Great Bay that the Dickster and gas lanterns were a very dangerous mix!

Drop us an email at DoDuckInn and get out there and get you some!

Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.


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