Ice Fishing

At the time Ruohomaa shadowed Game Warden Tom Sprague on his wintry rounds, Sprague had been with the Maine Warden Service for nine of his 41 years. Sprague monitored a territory in the Grand Lakes region in Eastern Maine of around 1000 square miles. This was a large area for one person to cover, but the Service’s roster of 117 wardens at the time was a skeleton crew given the breadth of the state’s wilderness and its stocks of fish and game. Sprague drove tens of thousands of miles a year on duty, and during the more active seasons walked as many as 30 miles a day. The area’s numerous lakes meant that paddling a canoe was a frequent part of his routine.

A warden’s work is, by nature, police work. Poaching can be rampant in remote areas, so Sprague had to stay vigilant for tire tracks in deer foraging fields, and he collected tips from farmers. In protecting game, he occasionally rescued deer which had been struck and injured by cars or chased onto thin ice by dogs. He monitored beaver habitats and, walking a fine line between safeguarding populations and mitigating damage to human enterprise by flooding from dams, judged whether to open new areas for trapping or close those formerly open. Since Maine at the time paid a $15 bounty for bobcats, he verified claims of hunting and trapping the animals. Isolated cabins and cottages were prey to storm damage and vandalism; he checked in on these as well.