A Photographer Captures the Maine Tradition of Ice Fishing with Her Bob- House Portraits
When the lakes freeze across Maine, hundreds of little villages appear on the windswept expanses.They are populated with little shelters called bob-houses –named for the bobbing of a line through a hole in the ice – and people of all ages who love ice fishing. Meredith Kennedy invites us into this world through images made with a street photographer’s eye.
Meredith grew up in Massachusetts and visited Maine regularly all her life until she moved here in 1987. Then, her husband’s job took her overseas.
Returning last summer after 10 years in Japan and China, she found a new appreciation for Maine.
“I want people to be aware that this is a part of the New England culture. By living abroad for so long, I appreciate the unique experiences offered by living here.
“While in China, I shot mostly street photography and disappearing cultures of rural China,” explained Meredith. “In Maine, there aren’t many people, and even fewer streets, so I’ve had to change direction. I realized there are ways of life slowly disappearing in Maine as well – one of them being ice fishing.”
Ice fishing for fun is a fairly new concept. In the late 1800s, gentlemen, often with the help of guides, took it up as a leisure activity. For comfort on the ice, they placed a seat of pine boughs next to the fishing hole. Primitive windbreaks were constructed with canvas supported by sticks. Supplies and tackle were carried in a large, sturdy basket with leather straps so it could be carried as a backpack.
A lot has changed. Ice fishing is not what you might imagine – huddling in frigid temperatures for hours, staring into a hole in the ice. Today, fishermen have many of the comforts of home. Bob-houses come in all shapes, sizes, designs and themes. Some are on wheels, others on sleds or skis. They are as unique and varied as the fishermen themselves.
Bob-houses range from basic to luxurious. They can be equipped with bunks, heaters, electricity, satellite dishes and woodstoves. Some boast lovely landscaping and others feature interior design that makes you forget you’re sitting on a giant slab of ice in water that’s 30 feet deep. The comfort they afford make it possible for a wide range of people to enjoy the outdoors in winter.
While working on this project, Meredith found it easy to mingle with the fishermen.
“The folks there were inviting, funny and pleased to show me their houses. Everybody had a story to tell. I guess it brought out some of the best that Northern New Englanders have to offer – and a wonderful sense of community.”
Meredith’s images reveal the fun and creative ways fishermen express themselves with bob-houses. The range of colors, decorations and architecture is impressive. One of her favorites is a small pink house she encountered on her first visit to a village located at the top of Lake Winnipesaukee.
“The woman in the pink house was just lovely. She and her friend had purchased the house for $80, painted it pink and decorated the interior with pink floral wallpaper. They don’t fish – they were there just for the social aspects.”
Another favorite shot is of a cozy, cabin-like interior featuring a deer trophy mount. “That house had everything including a propane fireplace. There was a hole in the shack for fishing, but not a lot of fishing was going on,” Meredith revealed. “There seem to be two ways of ice fishing,” she said. “Sportsmen who are keen of catching fish and the people who enjoy the social aspects of being together in the winter.”
Some of the most popular social events are the derbies held around the state. Recently, Meredith joined the festivities at Crystal Lake Ice Derby in Gray. This annual charity event supports Maine military, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and local community schools. In her photos of the event, people, particularly kids, caught her focus. “It’s nice to know that in the coldest part of the year, there are people and families out there coming together on cold lakes, having a great time.”
As Meredith continues to explore bob-houses through photography, she finds herself drawn more and more to the people and villages. “Now that I’ve had an introduction to this way of spending the winter, I need to spend more time with it. Unfortunately, the season is short, so it may take a few years.”
Wait! Did she say that the Maine winter is unfortunately short? It seems ice fishing has hooked another one! Find more of Meredith’s photographs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/kennedy_shatzer/