First fishing trip of the year

January 9, 2011

Tony had sent me emails all week about a weekend fishing expedition but Saturday’s weather wasn’t fit, so I had hoped he’d stay quiet until the sun came out. Surely enough, at 6:30 Sunday morning an email came about two young guys on an ATV tearing across the lake to an ice hut. I started to get moving, a process which takes much longer now than it used to. First I had to finish reading the online newspapers, then build up the fire in the garage, load up the Ranger and stop for gas.

By 8:30 I had arrived at the Lodge, only to discover Tony in the kitchen trying to decipher the instructions on a box of microwave porridge. Still in pyjamas. Anne waved from the living room, deep in contemplation of her laptop. Not much happening here yet, either.

I headed out to drill some holes and give the weekend warriors some time to get their act together.

So there I was, settling in to the first ice fishing expedition of the year on Newboro Lake, and I got to thinking, “This is a new year. When does my fishing license expire?” Of course I couldn’t look: the print on the Outdoor Card is too fine to read without aid, and I had left my glasses at home because of the cold wind.

This is an annual problem. As I recall, last year at the beginning of bass season I handed the card to Wayne Bennett of Bennett’s Bait’n Tackle and asked for an interpretation. Wayne is used to these cards. I think he told me then that I had another year to go.

Apart from that worry, it was a nice morning on the lake, though a bit quiet. The fish weren’t exactly leaping out of the holes, but this is normal for winter fishing in this area.

Two young fellows from Brockville had established their presence early off the shore of Mulcaster Island and had three fine crappie and two pike at the time I spoke to them. Very energetic fishermen, these guys had towed a large toboggan loaded with equipment out from the village, then ran down what looked to be dozens of holes with a power auger, setting a couple up with electronic fish finders and others with still sets and trips, as well as their personal fishing rods.

When fishing with plastic produced only an occasional largemouth bass (pat on head and release), I ventured up Water Street to Burtch’s Live Bait, where Doug set me up with some jigging minnows and reminded me that the Annual Newboro Ice Fishing Derby is on February 13th this year, part of the Newboro Winter Carnival that weekend.

Tony had completed his breakfast and was waiting for me when I came back from the bait shop.

Out off Emerald Island Gary Warriner walked up to us. We renewed acquaintances: Gary and I were in the same phys ed classes at Rideau District High School many years ago. Gary’s a cautious ice traveler. To get to Emerald Island he drove to a cottage on the mainland and then walked across a quarter-mile of ice with a knapsack of tools to get to his job site. So Tony and I picked Gary’s brain about ice conditions and routes around the lake.

Two fishermen had come out with an SUV and a pickup truck, though. They didn’t seem to catch any more than Tony and I did, but I noticed they drove their heavy vehicles quite slowly on their way off the lake. Gary had mentioned that it takes less ice to hold a truck if it moves slowly. Dumb and happy, we bombed by at 25 mph with the light Ranger.

Most holes we drilled showed about 8 to 9” of ice. In one wind-swept strait between islands Tony hit water at 14”. I guess a freeze-thaw cycle like last week’s can produce some anomalies depending upon heat loss, because in one spot I found only seven inches of ice. That was in a sheltered bay, near rocks. One spot above a submerged rock tight to shore looked very weak, but I didn’t risk a soaking to test it.

So what was it like, fishing through the ice for the first time this year? It was cold, and there weren’t many fish around. You know it’s a slow day when an occasional snag on an underwater weed is enough to get your heart pounding.

But still it’s great to get out there. It’s vast and clean and fresh and unspoiled and at peace. It’s Newboro Lake, one of the most beautiful places I know, and it’s good for the soul just to go out and wander around it, regardless of the season.

Many years ago I joined a group of Little Rideau pickerel fishermen on a shoal out off Narrow’s Locks. It was a beautiful, still afternoon with the sun beating down on the snow. There were no fish. One old guy turned to the fellow next to him and said, “Just think. I could be at home right now, fighting with the wife.” The other guy grinned, and nobody left until the sun went down.

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