Out on the ice, finally

February 13, 2012

The first step out onto the magical surface of a frozen lake has to be a high point in the year for all who survive it.

This year the ice information on my blog has been a series of warnings about dangerous conditions, but the fun of the first ice fishing expedition of the year is breaking through all of the barriers that have gradually entombed you over the three dead months.  Instead of huddling indoors and stepping fearfully from sand patch to sand patch lest you fall, you dig out those heavy clothes, enormous boots and mitts, even a helmet with face shield, and like an astronaut you launch out onto this strange, forbidding, frozen world.

Snowmobiles and ATVs are the preferred space ships in that they allow you the unworldly experience of extreme cold.  After a day of chill factors approaching -50 C, the lurch from car to mailbox doesn’t seem quite so bad.  The risks and strains associated with a trip on the ice jolt fishermen out of their timid, practical approach to winter into the adventurous side of their personalities, where they are open to the wonder of the winter landscape, the pristine quality of new ice and snow and the amazing clarity of the air on a frigid day.  It takes a heroic foray like this to appreciate the sheer beauty of the lake in winter.

“What if the Ranger doesn’t start?…  What if I get stuck in a snowbank?…  I wonder if they have opened the dam at Bedford Mills and weakened the ice?”  Thoughts like these get the adrenaline flowing so that ANY safe return to shore becomes a great success, defying the odds, fate, and Murphy’s Law.  The real appeal of the annual fishing derby is that it puts lots of people (and potential help) within sight in case something goes wrong.

While ice fishing you even get in touch with your own body, keeping track of the various muscles which must tear if you are going to get this hole twisted through the ice, and the yoga of directing blood flow to freezing fingers through sheer effort of will after every dip into the minnow bucket.  And there’s the steady, slow calculus of your toes gradually turning to ice.

Of course there’s also the surge of excitement if something tugs at the bait.  On slow days this usually occurs when a fisherman has finally succumbed to the call of an aching bladder and must watch, trapped by biology, while he hopes that the fish doesn’t drag that expensive reel down the hole before he can re-assemble himself and leap into action.  I’m sure it is in anticipation of this thrill that fishermen bring lots of coffee and other beverages with them.

Tony and I entered the Newboro Ice Fishing Derby Sunday morning and had ample opportunity to test that hard ice.  Three holes through the 16” barrier were enough for the batteries of Tony’s cordless-drill-powered auger, though my Armstrong unit performed as well as could be expected, considering that the arm turning the drill was attached to yours truly.

The hungry largemouth bass kept us busy all morning so everybody within sight had a great time patting the beautiful, winter-placid fish on the head and letting them go, though our only potential entry in the derby was a 1 1/2 pound pike Tony managed somehow to bring up through the hole.

I talked to Kemptville residents John Gorman and his wife Cindy who were fishing near our spot.  John’s a lake trout fisherman, still tickled about a 9 pounder he caught and released on the Big Rideau yesterday.

With one of the four northern pike frozen in the pail outside her shelter, Cindy Gorman held the early lead in this morning’s derby, but heard by telephone just before we arrived that a larger fish had come in.

At the weigh-in station, organizer Helen Burtch greeted us from the back of a pickup truck overloaded with packages.  I asked, “How did you get so many prizes?”

“We phone people and go around and ask them.  Fishing poles, tackle boxes, clothes, pop-up tents, tools, minnow buckets: you name it, we get it.  The only thing we don’t take for a raffle is kids or pets.

“As nearly as anyone can tell, this is the fourteenth year for the derby. And the community has contributed 85 draw prizes for the adult tournament and another truckload for the 50 kids who were on the ice this day.

“It’s a lot of work.  Doug and I do it.  Bobbie French helps, Ronnie Thompson, Greg Shillington, Mark Phillips, Cory Taggart, and Roger and Connie Norris sell tickets and provide sponsorship because it’s just fun for the community and we like doing it every year.”  Helen hosted a happy crowd in the bright sunlight at the weigh-in.

Pat Kenney caught the pike which beat Cindy Gorman’s promising entry down to third place, and Ron Thompson had the large perch.  But everybody who broke out of the winter doldrums was a winner on this magnificent February day.

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One Response to “Out on the ice, finally”

  1. tony izatt Says:

    I think Cindy ended up third. Good job, and waaaaaay better than us. Truely a great and a fun day.

    PS: you need a windshield for the ranger.


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