The ice fishing village near the little island where we live draws me to it, perhaps because I am in awe of a river that appears so ferocious in summer and then, come winter, turns around and welcome skaters, ice-fishers, snowmobilers and wind surfers onto its bosom.
‘Centre de pêche’, as it is known, is situated at the confluence of the mighty St Lawrencece River and a tributory, the Ottawa River – at a point where they bulge into two large lakes, the Lac des Deux Montagnes and the Lac St Louis.
God’s own country. I blessed or am I blessed. The oxygen in these parts can’t be the same oxygen the rest of the world breathes. It definitely has a different ethnicity. Or perhaps the eight protons in the nucleus of a Canadian oxygen molecule have figured out how to coexist in hahmoney, with the 8 electrons that are buzzing around outside eternally. I don’t know. Let me contemplate this.
The great St Lawrence, through which intrepid wanderers like Henry Hudson, Samuel Champlain and Jacques Cartier sailed in many centuries ago, is not a river one messes with. Unlike most great rivers, the St Lawrence does not cascade down any mountain, its source – the mighty Lake Ontario, one of the five great horizon-to-horizon fresh-water lakes situated at the Canada-US border down south, brimming with over 1.3 million square kilometers of fresh water.
Lake Ontario discharges around 8000 cu. meters of water into the St Lawrence every second and along the way, various other lakes and rivers say ‘hang on, we got something for ya too’ and dump their discharges, so that by the time she spends herself into the sea at Gaspé, she has over 30000 cu.meters gushing out every second into the Atlantic, creating a fresh-water basin that has a 100-km radius. One thing that the St Lawrence doesn’t have to worry about is running out of water.
Ice-fishing is a fun pastime, if you are sufficiently bundled up against the chill. Socks, boots and gloves and underwear – extremities, people. Take care to keep your extremities warm and you can have fun in the Canadian winter. Under the 2-ft thick ice, the St Lawrence is teeming with bass, perche, trout and sturgeon, all of them seemingly eager to get outa there. Understandable – life under the ice must be boring, even for the poor fishees.
Ice fishing though follows the same rules as regular river fishing in summer. If you want a quick catch, you have ta be there either early in the morning or late in the evening, though late in the evening is a better time. I don’t know why, but come six in the evening, the waters below the ice begin looking like Times Square in rush hour. You have ta pay the trout ta go away.
My carpool partner, Pierre has his own ice drill but for $80, you can set yourself up for the day (6am to 10pm) with a tiny log cabin that has a log fire going inside. The cabin is on wheels and is towed onto the ice behind a pick-up truck and left there in the middle of the river, stood up on rectangular wooden blocks. Outside, the guy drills 12 eight-inch holes in the ice for you with his ice drill and sets up a stand and fishing lines inside each and you are set. You also get in the package – fire logs to last you the whole day and minnows, lots of wriggling minnows. Minnows are tiny bait fish that are kept alive in large tanks by the operator, a plump ruddy guy with large weather-beaten hands named Ron. Minnows were born ta be eaten by other fish. Minnowcide even God approved of.
Folks come here, loaded with food and booze, to spend the whole day with family and friends and their dogs. The dogs appear to love it the most. They are so kicked by the whole thing that they keep scampering, skittering and sliding on the ice in a hilarious frenzy all day. Usually each cabin becomes an open house by midday. Anyone can walk in and get a beer or a swig from a vodka bottle, no problem. Outside there will be ice hockey or simply skating on. And wind surfing, which looks like a lot of fun.
In the distance, the middle of the river is generally out of bounds. This is where the ice is the thinnest – maybe around 8-10 inches – not enough to support a car or a pickup truck – at least not yet – maybe will be safer by say, mid-Feb to Mid-March. There are signboards telling you essentially that if you go beyond them, you can be classified an authentic schmuck.
But you know me – I ventured beyond for around 50 ft and stood looking down at the sheer ice on which I was standing. That is when something drew my attention to the precarious position I had placed myself in. Right where I was standing, the ice was completely transparent and below I could see chunks of ice rushing downstream. I had no idea how thick the ice was, at that point. A plunge in the waters here would have killed me in seconds literally.
I never denied I was an authentic schmuck.
The thing about a schmuck is that he feels good when he finds out he isn’t alone. I found a woman skating with gay abandon, way beyond the limit, right in the middle of the river.
Men can be schmucks – on stray occasions, but women – they are really a bit nuts (even though they don’t have any).