Wednesday, February 18, 2015



  As I've mentioned before, walking out onto the ice for a day's fishing has been a regular winter activity for more than a decade, but my first forays into the activity occurred long before that. More than thirty years ago a group of friends and myself spent the Fall building an ice hut in the backyard which was later trucked, in pieces, out onto Lake Scugog and hastily assembled over dubious water. 

 The hut itself was larger than an average bedroom with a wood stove, shelving and enough bench seating for a baseball team. My memory of specific events from that time are fuzzy as ice fishing back then was synonymous with drinking, however, I don't recall a single fish ever being landed. Truth be told...far more went down the hole than ever came up out of it.

  Jump ahead several decades and I returned to the activity at the insistence JLO, a former employer and fishing newby. He'd found Crater Lake online, a flooded gravel pit just north of the city stocked with several species of trout and walleye. We rented a hut in advance with the expectations of catching in comfort but later realised we spent $50 each to drown minnows for an afternoon in an upturned appliance crate!

  The next weekend we decided to save our money and just walk out onto Lake Simcoe near Jacksons Point. By the time we chose a spot and rigged up, fishing had become impossible due to frozen fingers, toes and most likely early onset of hypothermia. I can now laugh at how ill informed and prepared we were, but the degree of discomfort we endured suggested a dramatic change of tactics or winter activities would be relegated to organising tackle boxes.  

  Once again the internet came to the rescue. When I showed up for work Monday morning I was greeted with a stack of building supplies and plans for a DIY portable shelter. By the end of the week we had a two man ice hut that folded flat and could be used as a sled to carry our equipment.

 We returned to Jacksons Point, and after pulling the sled/hut only a hundred yards out, were offered a tow by a passing fisherman on a snowmobile who dropped us off several miles from the boat launch. We fished that spot for several hours without any luck and logic would suggest that when we decided to relocate it should have been in the direction of the shore, but no, we hauled that load for another half hour out to equally deserted, deeper water. 

  It was dark when we packed up with rain blowing in our faces and a three mile hike back to the truck. To make matters worse, every third or fourth step broke through the hard crust, plunging into 18 inches of slushy snow. It took nearly three hours and dozens of rest stops to make the return trip and there were times when I honestly thought we wouldn't make it. Later that week JLO bought an atv.

  So the next week we set out again, this time to Sibbald Point, where after ten trips, I finally caught my first fish through the ice.

 The next year JLO, co worker  Road Animal and I went out to the Bay of Quinte near Belleville for some walleye fishing. After an uneventful day we packed up around sundown, JLO and Animal on the atv and me riding the sled with all the gear. Minutes into the trip the atv got bogged down in a patch of slush with me rocketing towards the back of the machine on a slack tow rope. The atv gained traction a fraction of a second before impact and just like a magician's tablecloth trick, the tow rope tightened up and everything on the sled went flying, including me! I stood there for five minutes watching the taillights fade into the distance and then collected up what I could carry (mostly my own stuff) and started after them as the crow flies. They had made it all the way back to the truck without realising what happened and it took another half hour afterwards for them to find me.  

  Since then I've had time to re-evaluated my personal approach to on ice adventures, opting for safety portability and comfort. A good survival suit and boots replace the need for a shelter on all but the most extreme days and carefully selecting only what's needed in my sled allows for quick mobility to chase those moving schools of fish.

  Several years ago at Christmas Tackle Shop surprised me with a HT Enterprises, one man hut with a built in chair that folded down into a backpack. I hauled it out on the ice every weekend for a whole season and never used it, feeling it was a "hassle"  tearing it down every time I wanted to move. TS was the first and only one to use it. Folly on my part really. 

   Since that time TS has gotten his own on ice man cave, one of those three man center hub huts that set up in less than five minutes and, I have to admit, can be a warm oasis on those arctic cold days
   Over the years I've seen all kinds of shelters on the ice, from porta potties to an old chicken coop. Last year at Minet Point in Barrie the ice was covered with rental tee pees.

   Just the musings of an old ice miner

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