Sportsman’s Corner: Ice fishing on Cheshire Reservoir

For the Athol Daily News
Friday, February 09, 2018

One of the things this writer looks forward to each fall is my annual trip to the Berkshires with Dr. Steve Williams. Steve was Deep Project Leader and then assistant director of wildlife at MassWildlife, and his love of the outdoors and twisted sense of humor was a match for my perspective on many things. We tended to have very enjoyable hours in the field and after.

Many of our endeavors took place in different Berkshire locations that our mutual friend Gig Darey called home, and every day in the field seemed to create humorous memories not to be forgotten.

When Steve moved on — first to his home state of Pennsylvania and then Kansas — we continued our twisted camaraderie, and once, accompanied by Gig and Wayne MacCallum, we made memories while on a hunting trip to Kansas, which included trips to places he knew as secretary of environmental affairs in that state.

Steve’s next stop on the career ladder was the top rung, when he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Following that position, he took a job as president of the Wildlife Management Institute in Washington, D.C.

Each fall, he comes back to the Berkshires to visit Gig. That trip, timed to coincide with the peak of the woodcock migration, always includes now-retired MassWildlife Director Wayne MacCallum, Steve’s son Matt, and one of his Pennsylvania buddies, retired wildlife professional Pete Duncan.

It is a great crew, and I get invited because I have bird dogs. This past fall, the trip was unfortunately cancelled at the last minute, because Steve’s father-in-law passed away.

Steve decided to try something to replace the hunt, and suggested an ice fishing adventure — he and his wife Beth would be driving up from their home in Pennsylvania, and Matt and his son would fly out from Kansas. Unfortunately, Matt came down with the flu and could not make the trip.

But, that Friday night found Steve, Beth, Wayne and me enjoying the hospitality and great stories of Gig Darey. Gig and his partner, Ginny Akabane, are great hosts, and we all brought food, including an inordinate number of snacks and desserts. The tradition continued.

Saturday morning found us rising a bit after the “crack of dawn,” and we put together a plan for this first-ever ice fishing trip. Fortunately, Wayne is an avid ice fisherman and he had everything we needed, including an auger, chisel, tilts, minnow buckets and a sled to hold everything.

The question of “where to go” was bantered about, and we decided to ask at a tackle shop. We traveled to Lake Onota and visited Crea’s Bait Shop, located right near a launch site. We all marveled at the huge selection of ice-fishing gear in stock, including dozens of augers — latest power augers — a great variety of minnows and other ice live baits, tons of jigging lures, and much to Wayne’s delight, spare parts for most major ice fishing tackles.

The proprietor was also a great source of options as to where we could fish and what we might catch at each place. After talking with him and a customer, we opted to make a short drive to Cheshire to try our luck at the Cheshire Reservoir. That proved to be a good choice.

Soon after setting out, the first flag flew, and we had steady action all day. We did not catch the giant northern pike Wayne was after, but Beth did land a huge chain pickerel that was close to 30 inches and bigger around than your hands could circle. Very nice catch.

We also landed crappie and some smaller pickerel, thanks to Beth who was, “hands down,” champion of the day. It was cold (5 degrees at dawn) and very windy, but we were all dressed well and spent the day on the ice telling stories, because that is what you do when you ice fish. It was a great day of fishing and being outdoors. Wayne invited me to join him some time, and it might be a chance to watch a master at his craft.

Some news

This past Tuesday evening, a public hearing was held to give interested parties a chance to comment on the regulations proposed by the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board that would require all dogs to be on a leash at wildlife management areas, and would also require dog owners to remove all waste from the site. Those involved in hunting, dog training or field trials would be exempted from the regulation.

An overflow crowd, estimated at 200 people, packed the room at MassWildlife Field Headquarters and the presentation on the proposal and testimony took three hours. The testimony was by both people who supported and opposed the regulations. Those who were not able to attend, but would like to comment, can do so by submitting their comments at: www.mass.gov. The Board will consider the regulations at the next meeting on March 7.

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