Bringing back the Ice Palace pike

It had been a while since my parents divorced. My mother moved younger brother Joe and I from Long Island to Saranac Lake in hopes for us to be closer to our dad. I was 2, Joe was 1.

Three or four years went by, and when the day came, we were passing Lake Colby headed into town. I rolled my window down.

“Mom, mom look at the four-wheelers and there’s people with fish. Mom, what’s going on?” I said.

Like I said, we were from Long Island — mom and step dad were clueless to mountain life.

“Mom! Can we please stop and ask what’s going on?” I asked.

We pulled in and found out it was the Colby Classic Fishing Derby. I wanted in. The next day, I demanded to go ice fishing, so we went and bought one tip up, a pack of hooks and some worms. Joe wanted to come with me, so we bundled up.

Mom drove us down to the lake and opened the door. We were very young and the cold was bitter, so mom sat in the car. With a piece of steel just a little bigger than a crow bar, she watched us fight through the cold and 3 feet of ice. It must have taken us two hours to hit water. We did not catch one that day, but that’s how it started.

A few more years went by, bringing me to middle school years — I worked for several local contractors and met Tim Moody. Tim admired my hard work and fishing skills as a youth and I admired his fishing stories. I helped Tim when I could.

Winter Carnival was close. Tim kindly approached me, asking me if I could go catch a big pike for him to drop off for the Ice Palace builders. So I did. Seeing my fish in the Ice Palace was magical. Oh, the people absolutely loved it. I was just a kid. To me, it was a gift to be given the responsibility of catching the Ice Palace pike. I proudly made sure the castle had its fish through the 90s.

In 2002, high school came to an end I had a huge job offer in Albany. Taking the job immediately, I never looked back, although over the years I wondered if anyone had followed in my footsteps.

I’ve been home here in Saranac Lake now for a few years. Between work and a love affair, I failed to have time to bring back the Ice Palace pike. This year is different, though — with less love and more work, weeks go by only feeling like a few days.

Last Monday, the wind shifted for me. I left early Monday morning, passing the Ice Palace building site on Lake Flower, to do a few things in Tupper Lake. The ice was plowed and a cold snap was a few days away. I figured they were going to let the ice become a little thicker and I could get my fishing stuff together. Boy was I wrong. I returned back to Saranac just a few hours later and could not believe my eyes. Not only did the volunteers start building the Ice Palace, but they were already three courses up. I could clearly see at the rate of speed the crew was moving my dream of bringing back the Ice Palace pike was already just a few hours from being lost for another year.

I went into miracle mode, spending the rest of the day frantically ripping and tearing apart my belongings looking for my ice fishing gear. I was definitely sweating it, but I had full confidence I could pull it off. By 7 p.m. that night, everything was loaded in the truck — snowmobile, bait, hooks, you name it. Five in the morning came around and I pulled into the parking lot. I was out of the truck before it could stop. With all my gear on and fully bundled up, I ran into a wall. The pull start on my snowmobile was frozen, and for a moment, I felt dead in the water.

Straight to my tool pouch.

I found a piece of rope and grabbed two screwdrivers. The screwdrivers went into my pants, one in each back pocket, because I knew where I was headed. The ice was shaky, and I knew I could use them to claw myself out if I went through the ice.

I quickly wrapped the rope around the sled’s fly wheel and pulled with everything I had, spinning the engine manually. Ting-ta-ting-ting, the sled came alive and I was back in the ball game.

In a full sweat, I raced up the lake through the morning darkness. It was slushy running over big dark spots, but I could not let off the throttle. Making it to the rock pile, I began my assault, placing fishing lines in the perfect little spots. At daylight, the first fish was on the ice and worthy of being the Ice Palace pike.

The feeling of glory came and I pumped my fist, getting closer to my dream. By 10 a.m., another fish met its fate, this one was even bigger. I couldn’t believe it!

I packed up my gear as fast as I could and started racing my prize to the Ice Palace. The moment was amazing, but I still had to convince the staff to accept my offer.

I made it to the palace before noon carrying my mission, one in each hand. Their tails were dragging as we approached the Ice Palace staff, getting within inches of my dream. I was shocked when the staff greeted me with big smiles and cheer. They immediately began brainstorming on how to display the pike. I didn’t even say anything. The enthusiasm and kindness the staff displayed was absolutely electrifying.

After a few pictures and some high fives, the fish were in good hands. I walked back to my truck in my own footsteps with a face full of tears, knowing I pulled off my Winter Carnival miracle of bringing back the Ice Palace pike.


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