Nothing is more inviting than a Manitoba winter. Pack the lawn chairs and SPF 30 because the sun will be shining.
What better time to introduce your non-outdoorsy friends to fishing, like the land-lovers and non-swimmers, those of a klutzy/spastic order, goofy-footed or born under a bad sign. (Full disclosure: I am a well-recognized member of all these elite forces). Rejoice and be freed from water wieners, muscles, or noodles. Ice fishing is at your level, rock bottom almost impossible to reach, and winter is the friendliest time of year to explore Manitoba’s lakes and rivers.
When it is safe to play on the ice, it may be quite a trip to get to your particular honey hole. By sno-mo or ice road, snowshoe or cross-country ski, there is plenty of opportunity to get stuck, sunk and lost along the way, and you will be rewarded with stories to tell. Set out on foot with a loaded five-gallon bucket featuring a cushion top, and return to those summer spots that were infested with teeny-boppers on jet skis. Quiet now as you may have the lake to yourself. Ice fishing is known for producing trophy trout, whitefish, perch and crappie, and perhaps the most special looking fish in the province, the burbot.
Augering takes coordination and can involve powerful machines, but nevertheless first-timers are expected to perform the bull work and character building. A proper introduction involves placing both hands on the red handles and taking it for a spin (and so beginning a long descent into madness). Some can stir magic with that blue auger. Such practice gave me the conditioning and inspiration for a dance move of such an original variety that any room is awestruck. “The Augie” fad has yet to go international, but ice fishing has taught me patience and perseverance.
Friend, once the holes are blown, ice fishing can be real simple. A tip-up is wood, string, trigger, flag, hook and bait. All you need to do is watch it, and after an hour or two, this is when and where you will find peace with the world. Do not be complacent, for ice fishing is a sport that requires athleticism under adverse conditions. Elite competitors burst from their lawn chairs into a full sprint, they tackle or otherwise impede the progress of their competitors, and if they have a snack in one hand and a beverage in the other, they can work the tip-up with tongue and teeth to retrieve the fish. Ice fishing can be just that simple, but there is also no shame in completely overdoing it.
The Ice Shanty can act as an extension of the Man Cave for when the company and occasion calls for less primitive and more hillbilly. Mock the adult equivalent of a fort made out of couch cushions if you like, however here men find comfort in knowing that if all else fails, they have constructed the castle for their hermit kingdom. Ice fishing from one of these barn board beauties encourages further indulgence because of the protection it affords. Inside are stocks of deer sausage hanging from a rusty nail and calling out for your knife. Waiting rooms and office cubicles would be better places with openings in the floor from which to fish. This type of revolutionary thinking is what you can expect from yourself after a day in the Ice Shanty contemplating what is down there.
Electronics can show you what is down there but this wastes an opportunity to train your imagination and to focus your gaze on the hole in front of you and the wilderness that surrounds. Near dusk you may see a pack of wolves at play in a snowdrift while you cook trout on a willow spit over an open fire. These old relics can stick with you. Hard water is the place to get a beginner started and to remember what fishing was like before you bought into all that tackle and celebrity. Enjoy your staycation, share the warmth with those non-outdoorsy, for it is the season to reconnect with that Ice Age mentality.