I took Monday off work to go ice fishing. Every year I have wanted to but I have never quite got round to it. Not this year though! I was determined! Ice fishing seems innately Canadian. Canadian’s don’t stay indoors during deep freezes; the winter is always savage as hell but they basically just get on with it. No, scrap that, they enjoy it! While temperatures of -5 c would practically shut down the UK, our Canadian buds are going for a rip on their snowmobiles at -25 then swigging a cold one outdoors in their snow suits. Good on them!
So, balls deep in my fourth Canadian winter, I had bought a fishing license and I found myself in the outdoor supply Mecca that is Canadian Tire browsing fake worms, ice fishing rods and stocking up on hand and toe warmers for the next day. Trust me, they said, I would need them! Ha! They weren’t wrong.
Setting off from the city at 6.45am and scoffing the obligatory Tim Horton’s on the way, we stepped out the car at the Georgina end of Lake Simcoe at 8.15, dressed in our arctic finest and yielding a bucket of minnow fish for bait. Holy………….fuck…….it was cold. Real temperature -21, but with windchill it was approaching -30! Ha! The coldest day I have experienced in m life and I was plodding out of the car ready to spend my day sat on ice. Who is this girl and what happened to her soft warm buttery British hot cross bun heart? It was still there. Just under 6 layers of thermals.
The magic of walking on a deeply frozen lake is something we can never experience in the UK. It just isn’t cold enough. There is something so beautiful about a vast plain of ice and snow and uncomplicated views of a bright blue winter’s sky.
After less than ten minutes or trudging on ice, our equipment transported by sled, we set up our ice hut. The ice hut is basically a winter tent that surrounds your fishing holes and shelters you from the elements while you fish. We had the luxury of a heater in ours. It was…..GLORIOUS!
Okay, let’s talk for a second about how the holes appear in the ice to fish through. That part is no magic…that is a MASSIVE drill! We are talking 10 inches of ice here; the Canadians don’t fuck around.
With our eyelashes frozen and our hut set up, we began our fish-venture! (I am actually cringing at myself in advance of any Canadian actually reading this…I sound like a total twat…but this just doesn’t happen in England, okay?!)
The first thing that I absolutely have to mention is the COLOUR of the ice! With the tent surrounding it, it is a perfect turquoise! It is incredible! Also through your hole you can see straight to the bottom of the lake. Hello fish! I’m surprised you’re still swimming in -21 degrees!
Safely ensconced in our fishing chairs, my friend Hayley and I cracked a beer. 9am. No worries. Gone fishing!
BOOM! …eerrrrr what was that?! Oh? Just the ice cracking to make more ice. Ummmm. Scientifically it makes sense; as water freezes it expands so, as more freezes, there will be cracks that expand the ice plains…but, like, when you’re a ten minute walk from the shore that is a disconcerting sound!
Other than the sound of the ice, the only other disconcerting thing you need to worry about is your bladder. Beer n chill is all very well until you need to pee. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite as bracing as a -30 chill on your butt cheeks and nothing quite so sobering as watching your pee steam and freeze! Too much?! Well, I wanted this blog to sound like actual me…and actual me was greatly amused. And cold. Definitely cold. Zip her back up!
Eating snacks, sipping beer, fishin’… suddenly I love winter! We only caught a small selection of “keepers” (Ontario fishing laws are pretty strict and often you have to throw them back) but we had a whale of a time reeling up and letting go! The ones we did keep we fried up in butter and peppercorns for lunch. I’m a pescatarian and will only eat fresh sustainable fish, and you can’t get more fresh and sustainable than a self caught Simcoe Perch!
After four hours on the lake, the wind began picking up and we sensed in the air it was time to leave. We were right. A snow storm was coming…
As we drove down the 404 it was coming in thick and fast and it would have been scary had I not trusted Anthony, the Canadian behind the wheel and honestly the person I would best trust in any survival situation!
Back in Toronto, I made it home to 15 centimetres of snow blocking my front door and a snowy gale promising me even more. No matter. I popped in to drop my stuff and decided to do my weekly food shop as I had the time. I walked back out on foot in thick snow, amid a storm, in -15 temperatures and went about my day unphased. It was only when I got back an hour later and made a cup of tea that I laughed to myself. To anyone back home starting the day at -21, spending four hours on ice, walking through a snow storm carrying three shopping bags and digging my way into my house would sound like Armageddon. I started thinking of my day as a Daily Mail headline…ha! But really it was fine and I am fine. I am better than fine. It struck me right there and then that what we consider intense or extreme is only a matter of perspective. Four years ago I would have told you I could never do it, I couldn’t survive like this. But I am surviving and thriving and learning to love something I would have considered an apocalyptic nightmare. Funny how we can change.
The next day I donned my wellies, my thermals, my gloves and my winter hat and a I laughed as I stomped through what was now around 40 centimetres of snow. To get to work. Today is minus 17. Could be worse (she says with a broad smile.)