Beacon of Solitude

An ice fisherman builds himself a singular frozen sanctuary.

Beacon of Solitude
Photograph by Scott Farrell
By Finn Bradenday
From our February 2018 issue

Ice shanties are, for the most part, utilitarian: squared-off boxes made of framing lumber, strand board, and some insulation, the bare minimum to protect ice fishermen against the wind and cold. For unhandy folks, sporting-goods stores sell what are essentially winterized tents. But Derek Wescott’s fishing hut burns a little brighter.

Wescott, a 49-year-old housepainter from Northeast Harbor, on Mount Desert Island, has ice fished for as long as he can remember. Two years ago, he decided to build himself a lighthouse. Growing up down the road in Seal Harbor, he always loved visiting the Bass Harbor Head Light and other local beacons. He’d never seen a lighthouse-style ice hut until he constructed his own, but he was meticulous, even thinking to give it a working light, salvaging the rotating mechanism off an old plow truck and the bulb from a Cessna airplane.

After he finished the exterior, he carpeted the floor with Astroturf, lined the walls with spray-foam insulation, built in a propane heater, and installed a stovetop. A day on the ice for him starts in the coldest hours, by 4:30 a.m. at the latest. “I get the coffee on, get the holes drilled, get the tip-ups in,” he says. “You get a little shot of happiness when the sun comes up.” When conditions are right, he can catch pickerel and bass all day.

In photos, ice fishing looks like a peaceful, solitary exercise, but on lakes around MDI, the ice is often busy with fishermen, snowmobilers, skaters, and kids out sliding around. To ensure himself some solitude, Wescott makes a ritual of spending every full moon on the ice, sleeping and fishing in his lighthouse, which he equipped with a fold-down bed.

He has a real affinity for lonely, windswept, frozen lakes. He’s fallen through before, he says, and from the experience, he’s acquired a sort of mantra: “Don’t swim to the light, swim to the dark.” From underwater — from a fish’s point of view — the dark is where the hole is.

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