Posts Tagged ‘tom cod fishing’

To start reading from the beginning, go to May 11, 2008.

One weekday as I sat behind the store counter working on my
needlepoint, Maggie ordered me to close the store. We were going ice
fishing — tom-codding.

I hung the closed sign and donned my warmest duds: parky with wolf
ruff Maggie had sewn, snow pants, down mittens and reindeer mukluks. She
had packed some things in a small trailer behind a three-wheeler: empty
Blazo cans (round two foot high blue and white cans once filled with
white fuel), bucket, thermos of tea, large slotted spoon and fishing
gear. The fishing gear was unlike any I was familiar with; and I was
familiar with most.

I came from an avid fishing family. My siblings and I could tie on a
hook, spoon or lure; bait a hook; manage a spinning reel; toss a rod
under hand, overhand, across the body . . . avoiding six other family
members packed in a 12 foot fishing boat . . . by third grade. Each of
us could handle a hooked fish, remove the hook and gut it knowing the
difference between a blue gill, bass, trout, northern, wall-eye and a
catfish and how each is to be best caught, gutted and cleaned.

I held up a flat 18″ stick notched at both ends and wrapped
lengthwise with a tight nylon string decorated with transparent red
beads. At the string’s end was a  brass hand-made weight with three
large bare hooks. “This is our fishing pole?” I asked Maggie. “What do
you use for bait.” She said none was needed, boarded the three wheeler
and headed out to sea. Happy for this new adventure I followed
her on the second three-wheeler toward a line of people on the ice some
half mile or more from Golovin.

It seemed the entire village was out on the ice hovering over a
series of holes drilled in the ice. Maggie overturned the Blazo cans to
use for seats. I wondered if I were sitting on the same can I used in
the dark to pee in last fall while squirrel trapping. Maggie used the
slotted spoon to clear an existing hole that had filled with slush. I
followed suit on a nearby hole. I watched as she unraveled her tom cod
“pole” and dropped the hook into the water. She proceeded to bob the
line up and down, sitting comfortably on an upturned Blazo can with her
free arm nestled into her lap. Again I did the same but chose to get
onto my knees and gaze into the deep clear water while my red beads
bobbled up and down. It was too hard for me to believe catching fish
with bare hooks and beads would offer up any fish, but looking down the
line of village folks with stacks of fish at their feet, it had to be
that simple. Soon enough I was able to see tom cods hovering around my
hooks and as I lifted the weight of the brass knob, I hooked a tom cod.
As I had seen others do, I simply wove the string from stick to hand,
brought the fish into the frigid air, gave the end a couple of nods and
the fish fell off and quickly froze. It was so simple — so convenient.
Physically, I was in 10 degree weather, on the frozen ocean with a dark
wall of cloud nested just above the horizon behind me, a hole in the ice
at my feet with a view to another kingdom; emotionally I was in heaven.
It was so mythological — so ancestral.

When my father first left Alaska to go “outside” (lower 48) to attend
college, his mother gave him a collection of ivory carvings to possibly
use for money. Fortunately, he kept these classic pieces. I grew up
with them and would occasionally take them from the shelf and study
them. We had early on asked Dad about one in particular. A stylized two
inch Eskimo man stood over a hole in the ivory ice with two sticks in
his hand connected by a thin line of sinew. On either side were tall
shovel-like pieces. Dad showed us how the sticks were used for fishing
through the ice. With a rocking motion to his hands, he held the tiny
sticks connected by the sinew and wove the tiny fish attached to the end
close to the stick. My child-hood iconography was now a living
experience out there on the ice so far from suburbia. I was incredibly

(to be continued) copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, all rights

Ivory Carving

The ivory carving that sat on a living room shelf in my childhood homes. The tiny hand sticks connected by a thin string of sinew appears to be missing.


Tom cods, picture taken from Fisheries and Ocean Canada

Alaska Digital Archives tomcodding

Tomcodding -- from Alaska Digital Archives

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