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Ice Houses of Exeter
Exeter, NH 

 Swans 
When the river freezes a small shanty village appears on the Squamscott.  There wasn't a smelt in sight when we wandered onto the river recently.
 
The ice cracked and moaned as small flows broke out along the shore, making it difficult to get onto the river. Gulls hovered by salt water pools in search of scattered shrimp and bits of fish.  In the parkig lot, hehind the Phillips Exeter Academy boathouse, sightseers watched from warm cars for signs of activity, but there were none. The ice fishing shacks were as still as the renovated mill buildings across the river.
 
Further down the river past Swayzee Park is a popular gathering spot. A dozen trucks and cars filled the small parking among the trees on a point of land above the river. Fishermen had lowered themselves to the river, dressed in thick clothes and heavy boots, hanging onto bits of rope attached to spindly trees. We followed their path, easing our way onto the frozen salt water along wooden planks near the melting shore.
 
You have to love this sport, and the boredom and isolation. Sportsmen hover in makeshift wooden shacks, drill square holes in the thick ice, hook up propane stoves and battery-powered radios -- and wait. When the rush comes, the smelt hit a number of hooks at once. The state game warden allows a haul of five quarts per day. WIRE magazine reports that a 14-inch smelt was recently taken, twice the size of the standard little fish. They fry up full-length in a large pan, a Yankee classic meal.  

GOseacoast.com

The sport may be centuries old. Sportsmen suggest that sea worms and bloodworms make the best beit. Running smelt are attracted to red sinkers and the bits of bait jiggling on the line. Some fish like corn.  
 
There's more to the sport than sitting. Remember that the Great Bay Estuary is tidal. The water rises and falls with the moving water. At low tide, according to New England Sportsman , the ice may sit directly on the mud below. Night fishing is best, and the sportman has six good hours and only a few short months. Short months to the ice fishers, long months for the rest of us. -- JDR

NHS

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All photos by J/ Dennis Robinson
Copyright 2004 SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

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