THE GREAT ICE SHANTY RESCUE!
On Monday, Feb. 19th, 1951, the “Great Ice Shanty Rescue” took place. This group of island gentlemen combined their efforts to save over 70 shanties that were stranded on an ice floe west of Green Island after a strong east wind shifted the ice the previous day. They used rowboats to transport two to three shanties at a time across a quarter mile of open water to get them back onto safe ice. These ice shanties were the main source of income for many islanders during the winter months, whether they were renting them out or catching fish and selling them. Standing (Left to Right) are Ernie Traverso, Henry Gram, Fred Cooper, George Wertenbach, Bill Market III, Bill McCann, Clarence “Hook” Crowe, Walt Hite, Alfred Parker, Ed Cooper, Franz Schilumeit, Jim Poulos, Dick Fox, Nate Ladd, Joe Parker, Pete Traverso, Harold Hauck, Jack Meyers, Butch Traverso, Joe Prentice, Louie Heineman, John Nissen and “Minnow Charlie” Mahler. In the bottom row are Unknown, Gordon Dodge, Ed Market and Gus Cooper.
Winter Ice Fishing
By Robert J. Dodge *Photos by Wilbur F. Dodge
Editor’s Note: Since there probably won’t be much ice fishing this season due to the mild winter, we thought it appropriate to share with our readers an English Class paper written by Robert J. Dodge in February 1941 when he attended The Ohio State University. Dodge wrote the comprehensive history of Put-in-Bay, Isolated Splendor. The paper is reprinted here with all the corrections made by his English teacher. If you’re an English major, you will more than likely cringe as you read this. By the way, Dodge received a “C” grade for the paper.
The location of the ice fishing is the ice floes among the Bass Islands of Lake Erie. The village of Put-in-Bay, Ohio, on South Bass Island, is my hometown.
The fishing season begins about the 1st of January and ends about the 15th of March.
Put-in-Bay is an isolated community and can only be reached by airplane during the winter months.
Fishing has long been a sport and a commercial enterprise. Ice fishing is a combination of the two, retaining the appeal of the sportsman and the profits of the commercialized fishing.
Ice Fishing Equipment
The Ice Shanty
To protect themselves from the ice blasts of winter, the fishermen have built wood-frame, canvas-covered shanties on runners.
The type of shanty used in the area around Put-in-Bay, Ohio, is made to accommodate one or two persons. One person to a shanty is preferred. The shanty is compact and light for easy towing.
The shanty is mounted on oak runners six feet long and five inches high. They are edged with iron and have rings at each end for fastening the tow rope.
The height of the shanty from the floor to the roof peak is five feet two inches, from floor to sides it is four feet. The shanty is five feet six inches long and four feet wide.
A door four feet by one and one half feet is in the center of the one side, and for light and ventilation there are six small windows.
In the center of the floor there is cut a hole three and one half feet long and one and one half feet wide. The longer dimension is across the width of the shanty. It is through this hole that the fish lines are lowered into the water. Except during fishing operations this hole is covered with a trap door.
At one end of the shanty is the seat or bench. At the opposite end and in one corner is a small coal stove. In the back of the stove is placed a sheet of tin to reflect the heat waves away from the canvas wall.
In the opposite corner of the stove end is hung a grain sack in which the fish are put.
On the framework of the roof and about the fish hole are two springs to which the lines are attached.
The shanties are painted in contrasting colors so that they may be easily identifiable.
The Fishing Tackle
The fishing tackle is of a special type. The line used is a heavy waxed twine. Ordinarily twine is dipped in a hot solution of bee’s wax, paraffin, and gasoline. When the line is stretched to dry, the gasoline evaporates and the wax keeps the line flexible and waterproof. Great caution must be exercised in waxing the line because the solution is highly inflammable.
The fish hooks are attached to a dipsy (Fig. 1). The dipsy is a semi-circular piece of brass wire with a lead sinker the size of a half dollar in the center. The ends of the wire are bent into eyelets to which are connected swivels. Hooks with long cat-gut leasers are tied to the swivels.
The fisherman uses two hook at the same time, one for each hand. Four hooks await the unwary fish.
A sled is needed for carrying coal, kindling, minnow pail, fish etc. It may be a hand-made or converted sled of the type children use. In the case of the latter, a box and a handle to the sled is added.
To insure a sure footing on the slippery ice, creepers are worn. They resemble open-toed sandals but are made of strong leather and have iron points on the soles to grip the ice. They fit over the wearer’s boots and galoshes.
For chopping a hole in the ice a spud is used. It is a heavy, five foot long, iron bar flattened on one end like a chisel — on one side only.
The minnow pail is an ordinary one gallon size tin can with perforations in the lid and upper part of the sides. Sometimes the center of the lid is cut out and wire screening soldered in. These perforations are to aid in the circulation of water so that the minnows may always have a fresh supply of water. Normally the winnow pail is hung in the water. It is used to carry the winnows to the shanty also. For this reason the lower portion of the can is not punctured. A small number of bait is kept in another can for immediate use.
Sometimes the fish break loose from the line and come to the surface near the hole. To catch them a curved hook in a two-foot handle is used. This hook is called a gaff hook.
End boards that fit over the ends of the runners and extend down to the ice surface. Their purpose is to keep out drafts and prevent snow from entering the shanty.
The anchor is an oak stick four feet long with a rope through the center. It is put crosswise in the fish hole and the rope put through a hole in the trap door and tied tightly. Otherwise the wind would blow the shanty away.
A Day on the Ice
The fisherman arises at dawn or earlier. If he needs a supply of coal, kindling, paper and matches he obtains them. The bait supply is usually replenished every day. If he is so fortunate as to have a large number of minnows on hand he keeps them in a device known as a minnow car. This is an oblong box that extends below the ice level and thus the minnows are kept from freezing. It has screened vents for water circulation.
The minnow car is kept in the ice near the shore where it is safer and more easily accessible.
After putting his supplies, fish sack, and lunch box in his automobile, the fisherman drives to his minnow car and fills the minnow pail.
He then drives to the point of land nearest his shanty and parks his automobile. The supplies are transferred to the sled, he puts on his creepers and walks to his shanty, which may be three or four miles away.
When the ice is thicker, four inches or more, he may drive his auto out to the shanty. Usually the fisherman has an old model car to drive on the ice with. If it is lost, the loss is not great.
When he arrives at the chanty, the fisherman takes out the equipment not needed for immediate use, unties the anchor, and breaks the ice frozen the night before. The hooks are now baited, lowered and adjusted to the correct height from the lake bottom.
With the more important business of fishing well started the fisherman lights a fire in the stove.
For immediate bait supply he puts a number of minnows from the pail into a smaller can. Replacing the lid of the minnow pail, he lowers it into the hole and ties it to a cleat. The bait must have fresh water at all times.
The fisherman now takes a line in each hand and slowly pulls it up and down, a few inches at a time. This is “bobbing” the line.
When the fish is felt to bite, the line is given a quick jerk and pulled up in a hand-over-fist manner. The fish is taken from the hook and put into the sack.
Sometimes there is a fish on each hook, many times the hooks are empty and the bait missing.
Hours may pass between bites of the fish. Sometimes for fifteen or twenty minutes the fisherman may not be able to bait and lower the lines fast enough. Again there may be the routine of one bite every ten or fifteen minutes. It is this unpredictability that makes fishing a sport.
If the fish do not strike as the fisherman thinks they should, he may move to a new location. When this decision is reached he pulls up his lines and minnow bucket and puts the trap door over the hole. Going outside, he removes the end boards from the runners and stores them in the shanty. Coal sack, spud, and other equipment that was removed to make more room is put back in the shanty. The sled is tied to the rear.
He may pull the shanty himself (Fig. 3) or if the ice is thick enough, an automobile tows the shanty to the next spot which may be miles away.
When the fisherman arrives at the new location he takes the spud from the shanty and chops an oblong hole in the ice the same size as the hole in the shanty floor. The shanty is pulled over the hole until the hole in the floor is above the hole in the ice. The ends boards are now put in place and the equipment not needed for immediate use is put outside so that there will be more room. The trap door is removed and the lines are baited and lowered. The minnow pail is put into the water. Minnows die quickly if a fresh supply of water is not readily available. The routine procedure previously described now starts all over again.
The End of the Day
The time for departure is just before dusk, when there remains enough light to see the way to shore.
The fire is allowed to burn out, so no fuel is added to it in the last forty-five minutes of the fishing day. The lines are wound up on two convenient pegs. If there is a sufficient supply of minnows in the pail the fisherman will leave the pail hanging in the hole.
If a new supply of bait is needed, the pail is pulled up and taken to shore when the fisherman leaves.
The anchor is put crosswise in the hole, the rope inserted through a hole in the trap door. The trap door is put over the hole and the rope drawn up tightly and tied on a cleat on the trap door. So anchored, the shanty cannot be blown away with the wind.
Whatever equipment the fisherman took out of the shanty for comfort is now replaced. The fish sack is put on the sled or in the car, as the case may be.
If the fisherman thinks that the ice may be moved by the current and wind during the night a different procedure is followed. Instead of anchoring the shanty to the ice, he prepares to move the shanty. He does not move to a new spot on the ice but goes to the nearest shore and pulls his shanty up on the beach.
Selling the Catch
Selling the fish is almost as exciting as catching them. The fish house is always crowded with fisherman waiting to see what the other fellow caught. A lucky man may have two grain sacks full of fish.
The more common catch averages from one half a sack to a full sack.
The price of fish varies with the size and kind of fish. Perch bring six to eight cents a pound; saugers, six to eight cents a pound; No. 2 pickerel, twelve to fourteen cents; No. 1 pickerel, twelve to fourteen cents.
An average catch may consist of fifty pounds of perch, twenty-five pounds of No. 2 pickerel, and ten pounds of No. 1 pickerel.
In the fish house there is an oblong table with side-boards on three sides. This is the table upon which the fish are sorted. The fish are separated as to kind. All the perch are pushed down the table to the open end where they fall into a metal basket on a scale.
The weight is announced and the price to be paid is figured. This process is repeated for the remaining kinds of fish still to be bought. Fish below the legal limit of length cannot be sold.
The income for the day may be as low as thirty or forty cents or as high as twelve dollars. The average varies from three to five dollars.
Because the area around Put-in-Bay, Ohio is primarily a summer resort, a more profitable winter time occupation cannot be found. One must make the best adjustments to his environment that he can.
Dangers of Ice Fishing
Ice conditions vary from day to day and frequently from hour to hour.
In early winter ice from the upper parts of Lake Erie becomes jammed around the island surrounding the village of Put-in-Bay. A few nights of sub-zero temperatures knits this mass of ice cakes and opens holes into a safe fishing grounds.
Recently frozen ice is blue in color, older ice is green or dull white.
This ice makes an audible cracking sound when walked upon. One can see spider-web like cracks spread out from each step. This should be warning enough that danger is near.
When the fisherman comes to a spot of blue ice he tests it with a stick or a stomp of a foot. While greatest caution is exercised sometimes the ice suddenly gives way without warning. This is one reason why fishermen walk in groups of two or more.
Ice that breaks loose from shore is another hazard. This usually occurs at the edge of the ice pack where the open water of the lake never freezes entirely. A little stronger wind or current breaks a projecting ice floe from the shore.
To be warned of this as soon as possible the fisherman gets a “line” on the shore when he first starts fishing at a new location. Certain landmarks and their position in relation to other landmarks are memorized. From time to time the fisherman checks on their position and if any thing has changed he knows that the ice is moving. He also observes the actions of his fellow fishermen.
Upon discovering that the ice is moving he quickly prepares to leave. If great haste is necessary he may grab the tow rope and start pulling, come what may.
Sometimes if he is fast enough the floe has not broken completely away from the shore-bound ice and he pulls his shanty across the ever widening crack.
If he doesn’t succeed in this he waits until his more fortunate fellows come for him in a row-boat.
If no boats are available, he and the rest of the stranded group proceed to chop a smaller ice cake from the larger one. They then paddle it and themselves to safety.
Spring thaws bring another danger to ice fishing. The ice becomes “honeycombed,” so called because the sun’s rays etch a design on the ice similar to that on a honeycomb.
This type of ice is very treacherous because it suddenly gives way without warning. The cold water saps one’s strength and the ice breaks as you try and climb up on it.
Fortunately, the ice does not become weak to the same degree in all areas. Your companion may step through while you walk safely on.
The very best advice on how to walk on weak ice is — DON’T. If it is unavoidable, walk with a companion but not too close together. Use a heavy stick to test the ice before you step.
The ice is much more likely to move in the spring than early winter. There is more danger because the ice is honeycombed and more unsafe than recently frozen ice.
The same rescue procedure is used. Greater haste is necessary because honeycomb ice presents a greater danger.
In concluding it must be said that experience is the keynote of safety on the ice. The veterans of ice fishing can cell honeycombed ice because it hasn’t the glare of the sun on it like new ice has. Honeycombed ice is also dark green in color. Some may think that snow backs are beautiful. They are but when they are on the ice a snow bank may hide an open hole that has never frozen over. These and many other things complete the knowledge of the veteran. These things make the ice safe for him. Lack of this knowledge makes the ice a death-trap for the inexperienced.
All the news in the Put-in-Bay Gazette is based on facts, either observed and verified first, second or third hand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources or from wide-spread rumors. We never use fact-check websites because our island news is too new for the fact checkers to accurately check.
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