My late father, desperate for work during the Great Depression, toiled in a hot dog factory. He would never eat a hot dog. “You wouldn’t either,” he said, “if you knew what they were made of.”
Things, including the great American hot dog, do evolve, I guess. A modern hot dog, according to an acquaintance, whose livelihood was making those wonderfully snappy red dogs, is comprised of high-quality beef and pork — no offal or floor sweepings.
During my Maine ice fishing career, which was long and memorable, the hot dog was darn near the raison d’etre, the reason to be there, next of course to the anticipation of catching a lunker. Picture it.
It is a rare, warming, sun-laden, windless day in late March — perfect for a day of ice fishing. Holes are drilled. The tip-ups are all cocked with a frisky shiner on the end of the line darting about just beneath the ice.
The angler’s vigil begins.
You get a smudge going in the ice shack stove. Coffee is on. The cribbage board comes out. You and your fishing bud have one eye on the cards and one eye scanning the red flags waiting for one to go “twang,” and wave above the snow pack signaling “fish on.”
In the early days, before we owned an ice shack, a big bonfire near shore kept us warm. At noon the king-size iron fry pan was loaded with butter, a big sliced Vidalia onion and a pound of dogs. Unless the tip-ups were flying, the sizzling dog and onions became the main attraction, as anglers hovered close to the aroma with mouths just a watering.
There is nothing to match a hot dog smothered in burned onions served on a late March day beside a frozen Maine lake. There is no better way to get kids hooked on ice fishing. Years ago, as a young father, I carried my 4-year-old son in an ash pack basket to a pickerel pond for his first ice fishing experience. Scotty was a preschooler at the time. His mother questioned the appearance of it all, the propriety of our son’s dad encouraging school skipping in order to enable a father-son ice fishing experience.
The boy had a ball. I learned that cold, gray-skied February day the power of food to get a kid hooked on fishing. Oh, he enjoyed the catching alright, but the crispy red hot dogs grilled on a stick over the open fire was the main attraction.
More than 50 years later, that little hot dog lovin’ tike is a middle-aged airline pilot home-based in Miami. Itching to get back on the Maine ice this week for a few days of fishing, his Maine plans were almost dashed when what he calls a “broken jet” had him stuck in a South American city.
Last I heard, though, he brought the jet home and, despite a late start, is Maine-bound with ice fishing on his mind.
“Why,” you might ask, “would a perfectly rational adult leave a sailboat in the Florida Keys in February to chop holes on a Maine lake to catch a fish”?
Simple. Hot dog heaven. You can get a hot dog in the Florida Keys. But not the red ones that snap so satisfyingly at first bite. And, with hot dogs for some reason, it is where you are eating that onion-smothered, mustard and relish-laden lash-up that makes them so extra special.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]