The Good Ice Tour, 2013

January 27, 2013

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The full moon made it inevitable: no fish bit for an hour this morning, the air was clear, cold and still, and the thin crust of white on Newboro Lake over 13″ of ice made for perfect driving conditions for Tony’s Polaris Ranger.

We resolved to find the winter route to Chaffey’s Locks. Open water or at least weak ice at the Elbow and the Isthmus meant a trip across Scott Island if we wanted to look for splake on Indian Lake.

Yesterday we’d noticed a pack of wolf hunters coming out of the upper reaches of Stout’s Lower Bay, so we followed their tracks to a rugged trail off the ice. Tony had never faced driving conditions like these. On the other hand the Ranger 500 gave evidence that it has had lots of practice over rugged terrain, idling over breathtaking moguls, ducking its windshield under overhanging pines, and ploughing fearlessly through frozen muskeg until we reached a better trail.

We were pretty lost until Tony noticed that this looked like our friend Tom’s cottage road, so we oriented ourselves from there. I must emphasize that it is very easy — in any season — to become lost on Scott Island.

The township road is little more than a snowmobile track at this time of year, but the Ranger had no trouble on the hard, rutted, snow. Just short of the ferry dock we turned off onto a short trail and drove out onto Indian Lake.

Clusters of vehicles indicated the splake fishermen at work. We drove up to veteran Chaffey’s Locks fishing guide Lennie Pyne, comfortably ensconced in a mobile shelter above a shoal in the middle of the lake. Lennie told us that he had lost a good fish this morning, but that otherwise fishing was slow with the full moon.

Lennie showed us where he had driven on with his pickup truck, so we followed a minivan off the lake and out to the township road which runs around the south end of the lake, took our bearings, and headed back across to Scott Island. Tony decided it was time for a change of drivers.

The 2003 Ranger 500 4X4 has just over 1700 hours on it, but the engine is fresh and the rest of the UTV works well. I noticed immediately that the 500 is more softly sprung than my 2004 Ranger TM. On the open ice at 30 mph the steering feels light, yet stable. It didn’t offer to break the back end loose, though I was careful, mindful of the rig’s high centre of gravity. On the island trails the suspension worked its way over bumps and obstructions so that the passengers and equipment enjoyed a comfortable ride at a reasonably brisk speed. The optional cab and windshield enabled riders to retain at least some body heat on the cold day, and an improvised rear windshield kept snow and exhaust back there where they belonged.

According to the owner’s manual the AWD only engages a front drive wheel if one of the rear wheels slips, but I found the system distributes power very effectively without input from the driver. To cover the same terrain with my 2WD TM I’d be shifting the differential lock in and out at every obstruction. We didn’t use the diff lock on the 500 at all during today’s fairly demanding outing on the Island.

A wrong turn led us down a narrow and steep cottage road. Tony dismounted to move an oak branch out of the way and nearly slid down the hill when he picked up the limb. He climbed happily back into the Ranger and we sure-footedly made our way on to the point that further progress was unlikely. Then we made a 3-point turn on the narrow trail and regained our proper route.

The drive from Indian Lake to Newboro by Scott Island is quite scenic, but too long for a convenient fisherman’s commute. Tony timed our island transit at 30 minutes, though that included the time lost on the dead end. Add fifteen more minutes for lake travel and it would make more sense to drive a 4X4 out on the lake at the Chaffey’s end, if the ice permits.

On the way back we stopped to photograph a remarkable beaver project: an enterprising rodent has half cut down a 30″ pin oak overlooking the bay.

So it was a great day to explore. The ice was hard and strong and the crusted snow felt like concrete beneath the tires of the Ranger. Conditions don’t get better than this for cross-country winter travel.

We grow our rodents big in Leeds County.

We grow our rodents big in Leeds County.

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One Response to “The Good Ice Tour, 2013”

  1. Dave Waterbury Says:

    Hello, My name is Dave from Lewis Island on Newboro Lake. I and two previous generations of our family have spent our summer lives there and I wanted to say that your blogs are great to follow. It’s great to envision your stories of well known spots in the area. Your writing style is appreciated.
    Best Regards.


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