The Psychiatrist and the Ice Fisherman: Reflections on the Ego, the Id, and the Trout




Since Greg had never watched the winter sport of ice fishing I thought an ice fishing expedition might divert him from his normal activities as a psychiatrist. Especially since, during his visit to Brant Lake, he had tried to analyze everyone he met—not that I was critical of this occupational hazard. In my own career as a clergyman I was always preaching so why shouldn’t Greg constantly cast into the world of the ego and the id? But ice fishing was not about real emotions. Instead, the focus centered on reeling in pickerel, rainbow trout, and yellow perch.

Setting off, we followed two fishermen into the middle of the lake. They carried the essential accoutrements for ice fishing: a spud bar, an electric auger for cutting holes, a stool and, of course, the most important element, a six pack of Saranac Ale. One fisherman, his grizzly beard covered with frost, tested the thickness of the ice with the spud bar or ice chisel. “Too thick for the spud,” he called to his partner. “Must be almost a foot of ice.” So he took an electric ice auger off the sled carrying his gear, opened a bottle of Saranac and prepared to drill. Greg, a complete novice at the sport, questioned whether the beer played any official role in ice fishing. I pretended not to hear.

“How do you know where to drill a hole?” Greg asked. “Every place looks the same.” Greg was correct. A surface of heavily crusted packed snow revealed a series of frozen footprints, and tracks from an all terrain vehicle that crossed the lake from shoreline to shoreline, but, over all, the entire landscape was rather bleak. No water was visible. No fish jumping unless they jumped under the icy covering which might have inflicted serious wounds on heads and gills. I knew there were fish circling under us, just waiting to be caught, but how could I convince Greg who seemed bored watching the rotating blade of the auger?

Soon, the auger broke through and reached flowing water. The fisherman took a skimmer, a giant spoon, lowered it into the hole and scraped away loose ice floating on top. Water lapped the rounded edges. The fisherman lit a cigar, sat on his low metal stool and dropped a line into the hole. Within minutes he had pulled up a yellow perch, then another and another.

Suddenly Greg became animated and moved nearer to the fisherman. I was concerned that he might attempt to analyze the man sitting on the stool. Would Greg ask:  “Can you describe your emotions when you catch a fish? Free associate. When I say ‘pickerel’ what image comes to mind? If you are not successful in catching fish what does this do to your self-esteem? Are you discouraged? Is it the fault of your mother? Your father? How do you unhook yourself from feeling rejected? Do you want to talk about it?” If Greg started to ask those questions it could become a very embarrassing situation. Socrates had said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but for ice fishermen, on a gusty winter day, only catching fish made life worth living. The combination of ice fishing and therapy was an anomaly, unnatural to say the least.

Therefore, I decided it was time to take Greg home. But as we slid across a landscape now pockmarked by other fishing holes, I realized his excitement was not about the fish. It was about the fishing hole. Greg explained. “Dan, ice fishing is just like therapy. Once you dig beneath a person’s frozen surface, hardened over the years, you discover all kinds of life. It is a wonderful new world busily swimming around waiting to be uncovered.”

I smiled, wondering if Greg might take up ice fishing when he returned home to Florida! On the other hand, he had a point. There is an entire world we can discover if we use the augur of introspection and delve within ourselves.

Satisfied with our journey into the mysteries beneath the surface, we returned to my house off Route 8 where I grilled swordfish steak for dinner—a species of fish never found in Brant Lake.

Brant Lake

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