Northern Hard Water || Chasing Lakers Beneath the Ice

Wrote for Leatherman

Water begins to ice over with the arrival of winter and does not open until early-to-mid April in Northern British Columbia. It is a season of harshness and beauty, where the land is as cold and hiemal as it is wonderful, glistening with frost diamonds. Northern ice fishing, I believe, attracts a certain individual. An individual who is enticed by cold temperatures, long sled rides, frosty noses and skin, raw and coarsened, licked by the cold winds. This individual is not me. Last year, I ended up in the ER after an ice fishing trip went awry. We were in pretty bad shape; whipped from mother nature and her icy temperatures, forcing us cut our frozen boots from our feet with with my Leatherman knife. My toes were numb, raw and black while the third degree frost bite had begun to set in. Thankfully, I still have all ten toes and they are now back to a lovely shade of pink.

A year later, with new boots, I set out again with the same friend and my new furry sidekick, Oreo, who I had adopted last spring. Again, she greeted us with the same wicked winds as a reminder from last year. Leaving town at 05:30, the dark air was calm and still but after three hours later and a frosty sled ride in, the sun began to rise with wind gusts that made setting up a tent nearly impossible. Tent went up though, ratchet straps were drilled into the ice to hold us in place, holes were augered and scooped, lines were rigged with big flashy jig flies and barbs were crimped.

Within the first ten minutes, we were both onto fish. We caught five Lakers within the first twenty minutes and for the next eight hours we swapped jig flies, poured hot coffees, chatted about everything from life's greatest annoyances to politics (although as of late those two are on the same spectrum) and waited until we gave in without a single bite for the rest of the day. Lunch consisted of cheesy smokies, rock-hard iced buns heated up over the propane heater with frozen spicy mustard being spread on as a thick paste. It was delicious.

Oreo, who is my blue heeler crossed with aussie shepherd made a point of coming with me that morning as I loaded up the truck. He is as stubborn as a mule on the best of days; but he filled his time between playing outside, chasing chunks of snow being blown by the wind and jumping back and forth through the bottom crack of the tent's door into a little nest to warm up. Upon arrival I had seriously questioned my motive for bringing him. Guilt ran over me, as the wind howled past us, while he picked at the ice between his paws from the run, and I panicked. It was cold; too cold. With a bed of blankets and a propane heater, he seemed to love the excitement between landing fish and the smell of smokies being cooked over the stove. That eased me over, until we had to pack up. The wind cut past our faces, freezing zippers that needed to be zipped and breaking containers than needed to be closed and contained. Oreo looked at me, big eyes cutting into my heart. He was sitting on his hind legs, almost hare-like, with his two front paws held tight against his chest. Our emotions were flared, anger came out as things wouldn't close due to ice build up, or as things were cemented into the ice from eight hours in the whipping winds. We chipped away at the ice with an axe and my Leatherman. Suddenly Oreo bolted down the ice and attached to his tail, a big sparkly green jig hook. Thankfully we had de-barbed all the hooks prior too, but it was cold, and he was in pain. I tried pulling it out with my hands, but they were numb, and I couldn't feel what I was holding onto. I handed my opened Leatherman to Chad. I stuffed Oreo's face into my jacket, fully expecting him to bite me as Chad used the pliers to pull the jig from his tail. No biting, although I don't think it would have made much of a difference with the amount of layers I had on. The jig was pulled from his tail, and we shared the moment, a similar look of pain and dog-tiredness. The sled was loaded and I grabbed Oreo (who does not enjoy being held or picked up or restrained in any fashion) and put him onto my lap and held onto him tight. Three hours later, we were both passed out in my bed. Maybe I'll try again next year.