So far this winter has not been good for ice fishing. State wildlife officials are warning that warm winter weather is making it unsafe to venture out on many of Maine’s lakes and ponds. Ice fishing derbies have been canceled and you’d be foolhardy to drive a truck onto the ice around here. This saddens many people, but I’ve never tried ice fishing. In fact, I never heard of it until I moved to Maine.

A lot of kids learn to love fishing when they are young, but I grew up in suburbia where the biggest body of water was a deep puddle after a heavy rain. My father didn’t own a fishing rod.

So it wasn’t until I lived in Maine that I did any kind of fishing at all. In the early ’80s, I lived on the pond in Freedom and would often swim there. When I began dating the man who would later become my husband, he asked if I’d like to go fishing. He had a dinghy with a small motor that we launched easily near my house. I came to love the quiet when we’d drift in the shallows, hoping to lure fish onto our hooks.

My favorite fish to catch was pickerel. Some people don’t like this freshwater fish because it’s so bony, but the meat is very sweet, and the bones are not a problem if it’s prepared right. One of the best meals I’ve had is pan-fried pickerel with a mess of pigweed. Delicious!

Fishing traditions run deep in Carl Little’s family. He grew up hearing triumphant fishing stories from his father who kept a record of the best catches by tracing the fish on cardboard. He says this about his poem: “The pond is a mix of some unknown body of water in Rhode Island where my father was brought up and my childhood fishing spot, Flax Pond in Water Mill, New York.”

Carl Little is the author of many art books, including “Edward Hopper’s New England,” “The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent,” “The Art of Francis Hamabe,” and “Nature & Culture: The Art of Joel Babb.” His 2011 book, “Eric Hopkins: Above and Beyond,” won the first John N. Cole Award from Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance.

Carl’s poetry has appeared in a wide range of literary journals, including the Paris Review, Maine Times and Café Review, and was featured in Maine Sunday Telegram’s “Deep Water” series and “Poems from Here” on Maine Public Radio. He is the author of “Ocean Drinker: New & Selected Poems” (Deerbrook Editions, 2006), where you will find this poem.

His poetry has appeared in several anthologies edited by Wesley McNair and in “3 Nations Anthology: Native, Canadian & New England Writers,” edited by Valerie Lawson. A native New Yorker, he holds degrees from Dartmouth (B.A. in English), Middlebury (M.A. in French) and Columbia (M.F.A. in writing). Carl lives and writes in Somesville on Mount Desert Island.

The Facts of Catching

My father ice fishing at night

after his father forbade it

comes up with a pickerel

of record length

and runs

only to fall through

where it’s thin,

rushes glinting moonlight

ten feet away

till knees and elbows pull him to shore.

 

His father, storming

to be wakened so late,

admires the long body

still breathing,

staining the cardboard

on which, by tradition,

the largest fish alone

are outlined,

sketched in, the facts

of their catching

noted underneath:

hour, bait, fisherman.

 

And I, son and grandson,

attentive to the story’s

telling and retelling,

should be listed

as witness, except

I’ve got it all wrong

I’m told years later:

grandfather was that boy

poorly dressed

for a midwinter’s vigil

on forbidden ice.

 

What’s the difference?

I answer back,

to myself:

as long as it’s understood

how magnificent fish

get caught, drawn,

handed down;

and how honor

may sometimes follow

a broken word

between son and father,

 

a shattered pond

freezing over in the background.

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s poet laureate.