What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
~ John Steinbeck
Call me old fashioned, or better yet, make yourself an old fashioned (1 1/2 oz Bourbon or Rye whiskey, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, 1 Sugar cube, Few dashes plain water), and sit back in a cozy chair, perhaps near a warming fire, throw in a covering quilt for good measure, or slip into a sweltering snuggie, and consider this radical thought of mine about ice fishing: it’s supposed to be cold.
Now I have been ice fishing since a little boy, introduced to the sport by my father, who took me on winter weekends to a range of modest-sized lakes and farm ponds in the upstate New York region I was raised. And while there were times when the sun shined strong and the wind died down and the temp was just right (not too warm so the top ice gets slushy, and not too cold that you became part of the top ice if you stood still for too long), the norm was to feel some level of discomfort, even pain, from the conditions.
And that’s okay. That’s part of ice fishing. At least that’s what I believe.
Which brings me to Matthew McConaughey’s latest television ad for the Lincoln Motor Company. In this series, if you haven’t seen, viewers are gifted with a double sensory sales experience: we hear the Oscar winner’s interior philosophical musings (Descartes with a Texas twang), and see his ruggedly handsome exterior either driving about or engaged in deep-thought activity (in one memorable scene he stares at a billiard table and balls as if gripped with catatonia).
Despite my sarcasm, I don’t mind these ads. And I’ve always liked McConaughey as an actor, especially in comedic roles (his turn as a TiVo-obsessed Hollywood agent in Tropic Thunder slays me). But something does not sit right with me in this spot, which uses ice fishing on a gorgeous, shimmering lake as a visual and thematic backdrop. Jared Rosenholtz, writing in Car Buzz, does well to sum up the storyline:
The advert begins with McConaughey putting on gloves and cranking up the heat for all three rows of his Aviator. He then gets out of the vehicle to carve a fishing hole into the ice. As he returns to sit in the tailgate area, he murmurs, “Beats jiggin’ in a shanty,” as one of his McConaughey-isms. He then relaxes in the warmth of his Aviator, sketches in his journal, and whistles a familiar tune.
At the end of the commercial, McConaughey, using binoculars, peers out as the flag on the “tip-up” he placed over the hole snaps into the air, the indication of a fish. As the ad fades to black, and for Lincoln, a time when viewers run to check their credit scores, he jauntily leaves the warmth and luxurious comfort of the Aviator to claim his catch.
It’s a cool commercial (no pun intended), but it misses the mark of reality in so many ways. For one, as Frank Kacprzynski, an avid and expert ice fisherman living in Rochester, New York, who has taught me many a best practice to employ in pursuit of perch and blue gill, crappie and sunnies and other aquatic creatures swimming under frozen water, stated to me, “He’s not wearing a hat, and it looks to be freezing!”
Of course, hiding that golden, wavy hair from viewers would be cruel, and also inconsistent with the series’ theme of the car-loving rebel-without-a-cause (or hat). But there’s another thing that catches and bothers the eye of experienced ice anglers: the substantial distance between McConaughey and the tip up, far enough he needs binoculars to keep track of the action. As Frank continued, somewhat exasperated, “You have to be near a tip up when a fish hits and get there fast to set the hook, otherwise it will keep running and running with the bait and will sooner or later spit it out.” Or swallow it and the pointed barb into its stomach, akin to a death sentence for a fish. So if you want to practice catch and release, having to stroll out a half-mile or so to hook a fish, no matter the tune passing over your lips, is not the way to go.
Also, as Frank explained, just because the flag of the tip up went up, that doesn’t mean the fish is “on.” It just might have brushed the bait, or even swam by with enough force to release the locking mechanism. “So he goes all the way out there, across the lake, for nothing. And he’s all alone. Which is not a smart move if you want to be safe, no matter how thick the ice is. How come there are no other fishermen? And how come he was able to roll up right on the lake’s edge? Usually, there’s a lot or designated area to park.”
I didn’t have answers to Frank’s questions, but I knew, like me, he was triggered by the ad. But he ended our talk on an accepting, if not resigned note.
“Well, they’re selling cars,” he said with a sigh. “Not ice fishing.”
Precisely. But I am here to sell ice fishing. I’m in love with the sport. It calms me and excites me. Time when I am on the ice moves so fast that an hour feels like a minute, no matter if the bite is on or not. I’m also a purist, or at least a minimalist when it comes to ice fishing. As I wrote a few years back in a very short piece titled, “Men Without Huts” for On The Water magazine:
I’m not judging ice fishermen that utilize wind-stopping tents, luxury model shelters, or any construct to brave the elements in pursuit of prey, but my allegiance lives with the folks who plop down on the hard end of a bucket, or on their knees if a bucket seems too pretentious, and stare into a cylindrical hole like stiff-necked egrets, who wait patiently while their toes crinkle with frostbite and their noses drip frost, wait in the face of hypothermia and hallucinations that make the hole below them seem a welcome chasm to another world, wait until, like the miracle of creation itself, the line in the water grows taut, the end of the elfin-sized pole twitches, and in that instant all is forgotten – the frostbite, the sleet-thick snot, the existential fantasy, even the threat of death is put on hold, for it is time to set the hook and pull up the line and find out, once again, why a fish that barely fits sideways in a frying pan, is worth all the trouble.
Anyway, time to check the weather. It’s well below freezing here in New York. A week or more of this and it’s time to get out the bucket and jigging pole. Anyone have Mr. McConaughey’s number? I wouldn’t mind a lift to the ice in his Aviator.