Class Warfare on Ice
A few years back State Representative Matt Dunlap of Old Town, Maine made what turned out to be the most controversial decision of his political career: He tried to shorten ice-fishing season by a month and limit anglers to two holes per man.
“I found myself in the middle of a category five shit-storm,” says a surprised Dunlap, who sponsored the bill after several constituents expressed concern that ice fishing was hurting fish populations. “I never had a reaction to a piece of legislation like this . . .. People were suggesting that I oughtta be taken ice fishing and shoved down a hole.”
“We looked at ice fishing as kind of an anachronism like bobcat hunting. We just didn’t realize how popular a sport it really was.”
After an intense lobbying effort by the Maine Ice Angler’s Association, Dunlap withdrew the bill almost in relief. “It was quite an educational process,” he laughs now. “We looked at [ice fishing] as kind of an anachronism . . . like bobcat hunting . . .. We just didn’t realize how popular a sport it really was.”
Ice fishing has always had something of a roughneck reputation, as the province of hard drinkers and grumpy old men. To those who prefer to fish on liquid water, ice fisherman are cheaters who catch their quarry with multiple baits instead of one line. Ice fisherman carp back that theirs is the purer sport. “Let’s face it,” says Tim Jackson, founder of the Monmouth-based fish-trap manufacturer Jack Traps and a leader in the fight against the draft legislation. “When you got a $20,000 bass boat with a $20,000 truck you can do anything about as fast as you want. The ice fisherman is kind of old-school.”
Indeed, ice in Maine divides not just air from water but class from class. When the state freezes over, Maine is returned to Mainers one pond at a time. The waterfront cottages empty out and the laborers who built them are able to travel unhindered over the snow-covered lawns. “No Trespassing” signs are no match for the colonial-era Great Ponds Act which makes the liquid part of any Maine lake over 10 acres public property.