In search of black ice
Monday, 29 November 2010 15:27
Written by Jon Waldman
If there is one sport that tests the mettle of Winnipeggers (and the foolish souls who dare brave a visit to our frozen city) in the dead of winter, it is ice fishing.
Yes, there is nothing that says “I am a true Manitoban” quite like being in a remote environment, surrounded only by nature and gusts of bone-chilling wind as you dip a thin wire into a small hole of ice, your lone access point to the frozen wonderland of near hypothermic fish below.
OK, so this description may not be the most glamourous depiction of ice fishing. In fact, ice fishing is an extremely popular winter excursion that brings friends and family together to share stories, have a couple drinks and embrace the wonderment of nature in a climate that is challenging and blissful at the same time.
And, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron, ice fishing is one of the hottest sports in Winnipeg today.
“We’re finding that more and more people are going out and trying it for the first time,” says Brent Jakobson, manager of The Fishin' Hole. “I’m finding that our ice fishing sales have been improving year by year.”
Like its summer counterpart, the actual act of ice fishing is almost secondary to the camaraderie; but just as is the case in summer, even if you aren’t looking to catch a prize-winning pike or a wall-mount-worthy walleye, it’s still important to get properly equipped.
Thus, for the beginning fisherman, it’s important to understand that the difference between ice and lake fishing is just as different as ice and field hockey–the concept may be the same, but the gear needed is completely unique.
“It’s a completely different way of fishing,” Jakobson comments. “There are some things that are very specific just to the ice fishing season. [For example] a tip-up is something you wouldn’t use in the summer time, yet you need it in the winter time to be used over the hole.”
To properly prepare oneself for the arctic-like conditions that you’ll face, your first step is to swallow your pride and simply go into or call a local store and admit that you are a rookieto ice fishing (just as this reporter did for this story).
“There’s a lot of people who do know that different gear is needed for ice fishing than for summer fishing and they’re familiar with that usually right off the bat,” Jakobson notes. “There’s lots of people coming in who are looking for something to start with. The question they ask is ‘how do I get started?’ So we give them lots of options of how to get into it.”
The key, as Jakobson points out, is not to get in too deep before you know just how passionate you are about ice fishing. “As in any sport or pastime, there’s always a huge amount of gear that’s associated with those activities and you can start in at a very inexpensive level and get into what you need, then as you get better you can desire to get more.”
Even at the baseline, you can start to see some innovations in ice fishing that pull you away from some of the old-fashioned thoughts you might have about the sport. Consider, for example, augers (the machines used to drill holes in ice), while still available in the old-school manual style, also have electric and gas and propane-fuelled versions.
Another innovation that may surprise you, and certainly takes the mind forward a couple decades, is in the ice huts. Though some people still use the small wooden shack setups, the huts have evolved to the point now that portable structures are available that have creature comforts such as solar energy absorption to retain heat and easy-to-use lighting systems.
“It’s like any winter activity–if you prepare for it, it can be really comfortable,” Jakobson says. “Years ago, people wouldn’t have thought of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing because it’s a lot of dress; but people are becoming more active in the winter, knowing that if you prepare for it, it can be very comfortable.”
That comfort also comes into play for your own attire. Jakobson remarks that there is little that is needed specifically for ice fishing and that you should outfit yourself as you would for any other outdoor winter activity.
“The main things to remember is layering, which is always important, staying away from cotton fabrics and getting into poly-polar, polar-therm or wool: make sure that you have adequate footwear that’s not too tight with thick layers of socks underneath,” Jakobson recommends, adding that you should have some waterproof gloves on-hand when you need to handle the fish and always have an extra set of clothing just in case it’s needed.
Naturally, one of the most important parts of ice fishing is staying safe. As solid and as thick as the ice you are sitting on may be, there still exists the possibility of the surface breaking, especially when you look at people bringing automobiles onto frozen lakes and rivers.
Jeff Snowdon, sales manager at Ronds Marine, remarks that this is a common sight in one of Manitoba’s busiest ice fishing areas.
“All you have to do is go to Lockport in the winter time and you’ll see guys driving their trucks all over the Red River,” he says.
Snowdon also comments that thickness isn’t the only water factor that comes into play. He points out that water current is also a big factor in ice safety, because the ice will be thinner in those spots.
Thus, for those insisting on having a vehicle on the ice, Snowdon recommends using a snowmobile, something he does himself. No matter where you choose to fish or what your transport will be onto the ice, the best way to truly know the safety level of the ice is by testing its thickness. Snowdon remarks that once you get out to your spot, you can test the thickness by using an auger.
“Get information from people who are experienced at it, and talking to people that are out there are the best way to learn stuff–by people that are doing it and showing you how to,” Snowdon says.
With all this in mind, it’s time to head out onto Manitoba’s frozen lakes and rivers for an ice fishing experience, something that will, undeniably, be a memorable experience.
Just around the corner
Though ice fishing will dominate lake sports for the next couple of months, it won’t be that long before the large sheets start breaking up and boats will start to pop up in marinas across Manitoba.
For those who are looking to get into summer fishing this year, the best bet to look for a boat will be the Mid-Canada Boat Show, taking place this season March 3 to 6 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. But even before then, shoppers will begin looking for the right vessel.
“People pretty much start looking for boats after the holiday season settles down,” Ronds Marine sales manager Jeff Snowdon reports.
For new and experienced anglers, a proper fishing boat will be a priority. Snowdon comments that 90 per cent of the time, a fishing boat will be made of aluminum and have amenities such as vinyl floors, rod storage, trolling motors (as well as being outboard, allowing for more room in the cockpit) as well as pedestal seating.