Me? Love ice-fishing?

🕔Dec 07, 2010

When I met my husband I had no idea that fishing would have such a role in our lives together. We were three days into our week-long honeymoon on Haida Gwaii in the fall before I realized we were on a fishing honeymoon. I didn’t mind the fishing, but I had no idea that I would someday become a champion for ice-fishing. And if you had told me then that in the future I would eagerly gear up to spend a day hanging out around a hole in the ice in below-freezing temperatures, I might have laughed at you or run away screaming.

Initially, my husband tried to get me enthusiastic about ice-fishing by employing only his own enthusiasm. That didn’t work. I went, but out of a sense that I should support my sweetheart in what he loves doing. I went with him—sometimes on snowshoes, sometimes on foot, and more recently by ski—and helped him to auger the hole and scoop out the ice. I skewered shrimp and sweet corn on hooks and lowered it into the dark, cold water. I stood in the middle of wind-whipped lakes waiting for some cold fish to blunder past the little parcels we left underwater at the ends of our lines in the lake, mid-winter. I went, but I never believed in it.

What fish do underwater in the winter is a mystery to me. I prefer to keep it that way because it has something of the ‘what toys do after you go to sleep’ question about it. What do fish do when we’re not looking? I think my husband knows. I think he knows and it keeps him coming back to catch those sneaky fish. I, however, am more interested in what goes on on top of the lake.

Of late, it is far easier to get me to go ice-fishing if I’m encouraged to bring a cold-weather feast. If the food budget for fishing includes brie, olives, fine crackers, thirst-quenching beverages and beautiful finger-food desserts, then I’m in—and rushing to get the gear together. If ice-fishing requires that we pack a frisbee and an aerobie, a kite, food-colouring for decorating a fresh-made snowman, books, a tent for hiding out from the wind, marshmallows for roasting on a fire two kilometres out from shore, I’m in—and smiling. If ice-fishing requires that we ski in on summer hiking trails through birch forest, stark and shimmering in snow falling from upper branches; if I need to pack a small flask and some poetry; if we might see birds or moose or the northern lights; if the children are eager and well-rested and the trail is exciting with lots of ups and downs—then yes, take me fishing. Even in February.

My favourite image of my husband is him on his elbows and knees over an ice hole, his hands shading the sky and light from the hole, staring down into the dark water. I have no idea if he could see anything, but I love him like this: eager enough for fish that he’ll venture forth and hunt them, even when they live, slow-moving and soporific, under ice-sheets sometimes metres thick. I love my husband willing forth winter fish. I love his devotion.

We are eight years into our marriage and I have seen more lakes in north-central BC than I thought existed, and sometimes I’ve pulled fish out of them. My younger self might have laughed had you suggested I’d spend time standing on frozen lakes waiting for imaginary fish to bite my hook, but this more-experienced, older self will admit to being converted: I wait in the fall for the ice to get thick enough to walk on and I admit that I have spent time on my elbows and knees watching for a glimpse of wintertime fish.

Last year we spent a weekend skiing in to the lakes north of Eskers Park near Prince George with packs full of landjaeger and apples, hot chocolate, tea, cameras, warm gear and ice-fishing hooks. We spent the day skiing across the snowy lakes, scooting over the eskers to the next lake, drilling holes, and—most amazingly—hauling out fish. Beautiful brook trout, ice-cold and gleaming: we caught nine in 40 minutes and headed home in the early dark.

If I’d known those fish were there all along, I would have gone out earlier. Now that I know it, I can’t wait for those late winter days with my family on the ice. If you’re looking for me, that’s where you’ll find me this winter. Just don’t tell my husband; he thinks I’m still out there just to support him. Little does he know I’m going to out-fish the heck out of him this winter.