Bob Foster (left) and the late Tim "Jack" Jackson (with smelt in mouth) rig up a trap during an ice fishing excursion to Long Lake in Aroostook County that was recorded for the 2012 film "Hardwater." The documentary has been re-released for online viewing. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Brod

Ice fishing is a time-honored tradition in Maine, one best shared with family members and good friends.

Those who fish through the ice share a bond that only their fellow anglers can truly appreciate. Whether it’s drilling holes by hand and targeting brook trout on a small pond or targeting lake trout on East Grand Lake, the thrills and challenges of the pastime, and its impact on those who pursue it, are highlighted in a Maine-made film called “Hardwater.”

In the 2012 documentary, co-producers Ryan Brod and Daniel Sites rely on the storytelling skills and personalities of avid ice fishermen to deliver an honest story that captures the essence of what makes the sport so special.

Daniel Sites, co-producer of the film “Hardwater,” films ice fishermen (from left) Ethan Howatt, Jeff Howatt and Roger Bolduc on Great Pond. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Brod

“I feel like ice fishing has its own kind of unique, strange culture,” said Brod, an angler who recruited people he had met on the ice to serve as the film’s stars.

“I was interested in painting a picture of the people who do this who really love it, because I find that group of people really fascinating and I am part of that group,” he said.

“Hardwater,” which made the film festival circuit upon its release, is celebrating its 11th anniversary with the promise of entertaining a new and potentially wider audience. The 75-minute film, the first feature length ice fishing documentary ever made, is available for public viewing on Vimeo.

The documentary was filmed in standard definition and was available only on DVD, but the digital media era has opened the door for more anglers to enjoy it.

“Just having it available online, we’re going to find there’s not a ton of people in the world who are obsessed with ice fishing, but it will find a few people who are, and that’s what really excites me,” Brod, who is also an Outdoors contributor for the Bangor Daily News, said.

The storylines in “Hardwater” are tied together by the musings of Bob Foster, a veteran angler who has spent several decades on the ice. It features scenic footage of several Maine lakes and ponds and provides a taste of the varied weather and surface conditions.

Most of the men interviewed credit their parents and grandparents for instilling in them a love for ice fishing when they were children. The film includes tales of a variety of species such as brook trout, salmon and lake trout.

“When a flag goes up, it’s like a present and you don’t know what it’s going to be,” Brod said of not being able to see what’s coming. “As a kid, I was fascinated by that.”

It also provides historical perspective on the impact of illegally introduced invasive species, such as northern pike, and how they have irrevocably altered the fishing dynamics in some of the state’s waters.

An ATV makes its way out toward an ice shack during Maine’s ice fishing season. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Brod

Foster reminisces about his ice fishing experiences and talks about many of the changes that have occurred with the sport. Two anglers, named in the film as Steve and Jeff, discuss their decades of fishing together, even though neither of them enjoys eating fish.

Also featured is late Monmouth businessman Tim Jackson, whose company makes Jack Traps tip-ups. Then there’s Jeff Howatt, who prefers hiking to a lake, pulling his own sled and cutting his own holes rather than using modern conveniences.

The film gives viewers a look at some interesting personalities and their different perspectives. If you have ever been ice fishing, “Hardwater” provides a compelling look at the sport’s impact on the lives of Mainers.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...