Despite what my passport reads, maybe I am really not at all Canadian. The first indication of this would be my incredible aversion to cold weather, my reaction to winter being similar to that of a black bear, whose sane response to the harshness of the season is hibernation until spring. The not so subtle second indication, a corollary of the first, would be that I do not ice fish. Depending on the temperatures in December, I will continue fishing until water freezes, then I retreat for the year and put my rods in cold storage. For some reason once the temperatures dip below zero, my metabolism refuses to adjust to the cold, almost as though my body lacks the anti-freeze ingredient neccesary to survive our harsh winters. When the water stops moving, so do I. A half decade worth of assorted injuries, as well as incipient arthritis in some of the aging joints, become acutely evident during the winter months. From January to the end of March I remain in a constant state of frigidity – even while indoors! While others are busy in their garages - sharpening their augers, preparing their clams, tip-ups, sleds, vexilars, and all their other gear, eagerly anticipating the beginning of the hard water season, when the ice is thick enough for them to safely venture out upon the lakes - I have retreated to the relative warmth of my home.
There is just something so entirely unappealing about the prospect of sitting over a six inch hole in the cold waiting for baitfish like perch or crappies to bite. Some of my friends spend their weekends on the ice chasing perch and walleye, spending thousands of dollars on equipment to go out and catch fish that can basically be bought at the fish market for $1.49 per pound, without having to drill a hole in the two foot thick ice or freezing in the process. I know, I know, that’s not the point, it’s not about the fish, and there are great benefits on any day spent outdoors with friends and family, even freezing on a sheet of ice. When people learn that I’m not a big fan of ice fishing they actually seem quite surprised, often questioning a second time to make sure they heard correctly. It’s not that I don’t like fishing, for I will fish open water in any kinds of foul weather, preferably at the other extreme of the temperature spectrum, but rather that I hate the cold. My aversion to the cold dates back to childhood, when I was five or six years old and my parents sent me outdoors to play in the snow. That wasn’t really a problem except that, for my own protection, they tethered me to a dog leash attached to the handle of the garage door, just out of range of any point of independant entry back into the house, and often forgetting me outside in the freezing cold for hours. In today’s enlightened world, most parents would be reported to youth protective services for committing such an act but back in the sixties it was not uncommon to torture your children and was perfectly acceptable, and an entire generation of presently well adjusted baby boomers had all been subjected to similar forms of parental rearing, a la Dr. Spock gone wild. I once shared with a filippino friend, terrified by the imminent prospect of his first winter, that I too hated the cold. He looked at me with a strange look in his eyes and replied, b-b-b-but you were born here. Just because I was born here doesn’t mean I like winter, eh? As my body ages, so does my proportional aversion to the cold. As winter’s icy embrace is at its peak, I become increasingly envious of the bear’s ability to hibernate for the entire winter, putting itself into a state of suspended animation, missing the worst weather this country has to offer.
The first time I ice fished was in the early seventies, when the only equipment available to the ice fisherman was a hand auger and some ice fishing rods. Most of the tip-ups were all hand-made. There was not much else to the sport, no electronics, clams, portable heaters, or any of the creature comforts that are the mainstay of todays modern ice fisherman. We were out on the Bay of Quinte in Southern Ontario, on a vast windswept bay more suited for kite skiing than ice fishing. The exercise seemed somewhat futile, for there was so much water to cover it seemed absurd to be fishing from ten or twelve random holes in the ice, covering a total of about five square feet of water. My friend explained that we would wait for the fish to come under our holes, with the best bite occuring around sunset, another eight numbing hours away. The temperature was minus 20 and the winds gusted relentlessly all day, the wind chill factor dropping the temperature to minus 30. At one point my boots actually froze to the ice, leaving me under the distinct impression that I would remain stuck there until the spring thaw. It was so cold that the snot froze and hung from your nostrils, likes icicles from the eaves of a rooftop. We caught three fish that day, suffered mild frostbite to our feet,fingers, and faces, and needed to have our car boosted when we reached shore. It was not a fun day.
It seems that alcohol can often be an integral part of the activity, and this would seem to make some sense to me, for at the very least one can always rest assured that the beer will always be served cold. Besides, a frozen lake is a great place to go on a bender for how much damage can one do to themselves (or to the fish) while drunk out on the ice? So while alcohol may be an inducement to some as another great excuse to get drunk, I don’t drink enough for this enticement to sway my feelings about the sport. Two beers and I’m done, again, something truly un-Canadian! Besides, for some strange reason I hate exposing myself in minus 20 weather, as my genitalia tend to withdraw and not re-emerge until the spring solstice, but maybe thats just me. While my friends attempt to convince me that ice fishing the greatest cure for cabin fever, I find it somehow ironic that they this miraculous tonic for winter sees them spending a day in a cabin on the ice, and a cold one at that. Why would I trade my warm house for a cold cabin? Don’t get me wrong, or write me any hate letters, as I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for those hardy souls willing to brave the worst elements to practice their sport. Winter is long and brutal in this country, particularly if you live up in Northern Sakatchewan or Manitoba, where quite frankly, what the hell else is there to do in the winter but ice fish? One of my friends, both extrmely resourceful and lazy, equally averse to the cold, cut a few holes in the floor of his camper and fishes all winter out on Lake of the Woods from the comfort of his living room while watching television in his underwear on his sofa. He is my ice fishing hero…