Our Man in Canada next week talks a little about ice fishing. And
that brought up some old memories. Other than those who may
have seen the film, "Grumpy Old Men" ice
fishing may be foreign to many. But it is a very old
and successful way to catch fish.
In places where cold weather and ice are par
for winter, whole villages of tar-paper ice shanties, canvas huts, and
the hearty sitting on homemade sled affairs jigging through a
hole cut in the ice. In fact, a whole industry of gear, ice augers,
and clothing for the ice fisher has evolved.
Growing up on Saginaw Bay, (part of Lake Huron)
winter brought all sorts of wonders. I could look out the windows of
the glassed-in porch and watch an elderly gentleman skate past the
house. In a little while he would come back, propelled by a sail!
Several years later I saw the first ice-sailing vessel, which tacked
back and forth just like a real sailboat.
Actually, ice shanties can be very comfortable. Dad
built a shanty. It had a floor with a hole where the ice would be cut out.
It also had a very small pot-bellied stove . . . which memory serving
correctly, burned coal. Hot soup, crackers and hard-boiled eggs were
lunch on those weekend days on the ice. Perch were plentiful, but were
not edible. Terrible pollution of Saginaw Bay had been caused by chemical
dumping by Dow Chemical into a tributary of the Saginaw River. If you
did cook a fish, the stench was horrible. As I recall this was during
World War 2, so free fish would have been a bonus - but no one could
eat them. Gratefully, that was corrected many years ago.
The ice fishing we did, was for sport. We fished
for pike, certainly well known for their fighting ability. Sitting in the dark
shanty, watching the green glow of the water in the hole, waiting for a
pike to swim up to investigate the decoy became hypnotic. I suppose
like television is to some today.
Decoy? Yes, dad whittled wooden pike fish decoys, painted
them and even installed eyes. These were not small, about a foot or so in
length, were suspended from another jigging rod by a screw-eye at the
proper balance point giving the decoy the most lifelike appearance. Once in
a while a perch could be spotted in the distance - not wanting to take a chance
of being eaten by the decoy. Wonderful experiences for a kid.
JC got involved in ice fishing for Mackinaw
Trout and Kokanee Salmon when we lived on Flathead Lake in
Montana. This took a customized sled, auger, electronic fish-finder
and a slab of Styrofoam. Oh yes, a thermos of water. (That was in
addition to the thermos of coffee or chicken broth.) The thermos of
water was to make a puddle on the ice so JC could see if any
fish were around before he cut a hole. Fish Finders need water to
work. Ice doesn't make it.
The Styrofoam was to lie on, insulation from
the ice. Dressed in a snowmobile suit one could stay at least warm.
Jigging was the local method for catching trout in the lake, and some
of the old timers did use flies. I guess that is done around the world
where ice fishing is practiced. I've seen references to "ice flies" and
ice-fishing flies in several of the old books. Usually they are the same wet
patterns used in normal fishing, but sized smaller.
We lived on Finley Point, and with the spotting
scope I could watch JC across the lake at Blue Bay. I checked every
so often, mostly because I didn't want to miss anything, and so
I could start dinner when he left the ice. Sometimes he caught enough
Kokanee for dinner, or to smoke (absolutely grand). They ran about
14 inches in length.
And then there was the day he ran into trouble.
He cut his usual hole (after checking to make sure there were fish around)
and proceeded to fish. After an hour or so he had a big hit. He said it almost
pulled the little rod out of his hands. And the battle was one! This was a big
fish. A half-hour later, he finally had the Mackinaw to the hole.
But the hole was too small! He couldn't get the huge fish through the hole!
Try and hold on to the fish without losing it, grab
the ice auger and make the hole bigger, and pray a lot! So with one
foot on the rod to keep a little pressure on the fish, balancing on the
other foot to steady the auger, the hole was slowly, very slowly made larger.
It was dark by the time he landed the fish. But
land it he did. Twenty-four pounds of
Mackinaw Trout through a hole in the ice.
~ Deanna Birkholm
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