The Art, Exhilaration, and Isolation of Ice
by Jonathan Katz
“People say we got it made.
Don't they know we're so afraid?
Isolation.” – John Lennon
I recently watched the trailer for a new Gus Van Sant movie starring Joaquin Phoenix called “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” The theme music playing was the song “Isolation” by John Lennon. The lyrics stuck with me because many of us who work in the “gig” economy experience some type of isolation. The lack of face-to-face interaction, especially during downtime, can leave you feeling a bit restless.
I had one of those days recently. I work as a freelance writer from my tiny in-law suite in Geauga County. I moved out here about four years ago from Cleveland’s East 185th neighborhood to get a taste of small-town living and to be a little closer to the outdoor activities I love.
One of those pastimes is fishing.
January 22, 2018, was an unseasonably warm day, and the great thaw-out was well underway. I packed my little Subaru with fly fishing gear, and left my cramped apartment seeking fishable streams around Geauga and Lake counties. The target: those chrome-colored, feisty steelhead trout.
I knew it was probably a hopeless endeavor. The snowmelt would likely leave the rivers “blown out”—fisherman speak for high, muddy water that’s basically unfishable.
As I suspected, the rivers and streams were chocolate colored and raging, with blocks of ice piled high along the river banks. I had a back-up plan, though. I brought along a smaller bait-casting rod just in case I wanted to give ice fishing a try. I had seen some impressive pictures on Facebook and other online groups of people pulling some real monsters out of the ice.
Eventually, I took a ride up to a Fairport Harbor pier where I had heard people were ice fishing. I left my rod in the car because I didn’t think I’d have the guts to chance the ice. I just wanted to see what it was all about. I walked to the end of the pier where a single fisherman, who appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s, was bravely standing about 30 feet or so from the edge of the pier on the melting ice with at least two lines in the square-shaped holes. He carved out the holes with an auger or some type of ice-breaking equipment. An older gentleman with an Eastern European accent was talking to the young man about fishing hotspots. The old man was retelling some of his fishing stories—how the walleye bite is the best he’s seen in years—while the young man talked about some of his favorite fishing spots (I’m keeping these a secret!). On the other side of the pier is the mouth of the Grand River. It looked like one of those pictures of a tornado-ravaged town, with piles and piles of wood and debris jammed together in the ice. In the distance, you could see a lone sailboat that had broken free from its moorings several weeks ago and was trapped in the ice.
I soon joined in the conversation and told the old man I had never been ice fishing. The old man lowered his voice and said, “I wouldn’t mess with the ice.” I thought, “Yeah, what kind of idiot would take that chance?” After the old man left, you’d assume I would heed his warning and my own intuition. Instead, I told the young man, who later introduced himself as Ben, that I’d love to try ice fishing but was a little apprehensive about walking on melting ice on a 60-degree day. What the hell. I figured I’m 42 and I’ve played it safe long enough to miss out on a lot of life experiences.
He assured me the ice was at least 8 inches thick and invited me to join him. I grabbed a couple of his extra rods that were propped up in rod holders attached to an ice-fishing sled that he left on the pier. I climbed down a ladder from the pier onto the ice-covered lake. I shuffled my feet nervously toward two of the holes and dropped my lines in the water. The vast expanse of the frozen lake, even with a fishing partner, still elicited a feeling of aloneness. But this was a different type of isolation—a feeling that engendered a sense of tranquility that one can only experience in nature, away from the confines of a home office.
He set me up with one line that had a minnow suspended under a float and another with a small Rapala spoon. I was “jigging” the spoon, which basically means I was lifting and dropping the line through the hole to add some movement to the lure.
Within 15 minutes, I felt the unmistakable strike of a steelhead. Fish on! I could almost immediately see her silvery body flashing in the surprisingly clear water. The drag on the reel was set a little too loose, which made the fight a little more challenging. Ben walked over and helped pull some line in by hand while I reeled.
After a little fight, Ben lifted her out of the hole and onto the ice. I’d say she was about 25 inches, fairly average for a Lake Erie steelhead. We unhooked her, took a quick picture, and released her back to the icy blue water.
What initially seemed like a wasted, unproductive “work day” turned into a new experience that gave me some writing material and an appreciation for the different ways we’re impacted by feelings of isolation.
Jonathan Katz is a freelance writer based in Chardon, Ohio. He covers a range of industries, including manufacturing, horticulture, the cannabis industry, executive programs, high-tech issues—including the Internet of Things, automation, and robotics. His content formats include white papers, case studies, infographics, ghostwritten blogs, industry reports, feature articles, and email copy. He also edits books. He can be reached at email@example.com or 216-401-4490 or visit his website at: www.jon-katz.com