Ice fishing in Saskatchewan is a popular leisure time activity during the winter months. Living in a lake-shore community that overlooks Buffalo Pound Lake I have a chance to witness and participate in various winter sports. Today I am sharing a short story about this season’s early days of ice fishing from December 2012. Enjoy!
A high-pitched noise slices through the quiet morning again and again. My eyes scan the icy crust of Buffalo Pound Lake. I am navigating the surface on snow shoes, camera in tow, searching for early light. The chilly breeze reminds me that the narrow lake valley I call home was formed through glaciation over 10,000 years ago. Judging the way my exposed skin reacts – the ice age has returned!
Above the south eastern horizon the sun rises introducing a golden hue and the illusion of warmth at – 15 C. I feel distracted and annoyed. The unidentified noise has broken the magic spell a sunrise holds for me. I choose to investigate the disturbance over abandoning my solitary morning excursion.
Ice fishing on the Qu’Appelle Valley lakes is a popular activity. Buffalo Pound Lake is located on the western edge of the valley north of Moose Jaw and with 29.5 square km surface provides plenty of space for nomadic winter villages to establish themselves from mid-December through mid-March.
Lake levels are maintained by Lake Diefenbaker 50 km west, while vast quantities of water are pumped continuously to two large potash mines for the production of fertilizer distributed around the globe and to supply water to the population of Moose Jaw and Regina. With a thick layer of ice and snow covering the surface I can’t detect how high water levels are today. Judging by the numerous shelters fishing is excellent this year!
I move past the varied styles of ice fishing huts dotting the landscape. Temporary red, lime green and blue tents identify the transient sports fisher. Rustic huts constructed from plywood, recycled windows and doors distinguish the local fishermen. Those who intend to spend full days on the ice in comfort have retrofitted holiday trailers with wood burning stoves.
I now recognize the two warmly clothed figures. Laurie and Ron are my neighbors. Heads bowed, ice fishing rod in hand and intently watching 25 cm diameter holes in the ice. With big smiles they wave me closer. Tanned faces attest to their love for the outdoors.
“Good morning!” We exchange greetings.
“You are out early?! How are the fish biting?” I inquire.
“We’ve only had a couple small ones bite so far”, Ron responds.
I count seven openings in the ice, realizing the earlier noise is related to these holes.
“Coffee?” Laurie offers. I decline. I want to learn more about ice fishing.
“Do you release the smaller fish?” I am curious.
“Oh yeah!”, Ron replies. A man of few words he rarely volunteers information.
Silently I move from hole to hole contemplating the slushy darkness. Splashing sounds and jerky movements reel my attention back to the moment.
“Ron’s got one!!” Laurie shouts.
I raise my camera asking “Is it OK…?”
“Sure,” Ron smiles and proudly holds up an immature Walleye writhing in distress. He removes the hook and drops the fish it back into the hole it was pulled from. Pushing his rod into the snow, Ron turns and lifts a lime green over-sized drill from the ATV.
“Ice auger?” I am curious.
“You got it!” Laurie and Ron reply in unison.
I lean against the ATV. Ron positions the auger on the ice and pulls the starter cord to activate the gasoline driven motor. I realize that one hole is seldom enough. While the motor is running Ron quickly creates four additional ice openings.
Laurie laughs, and with a suppressed giggle and wink shares: “Ron is a great believer in increased chances. He always has at least six holes going. He likes to move around from hole to hole. It’s his ADD personality.” Using a giant soup ladle she is scooping icy slush from the openings.They work in unison, each anticipating the others’ move. I watch, feeling like an intruder.
Activity on the lake increases. Cars slowly drive onto the ice, likely transporting townies to their secondary home.
Laurie and Ron replenish their hot drinks and relocate to a new-to-him-and-her fishing hole. Smiling, embracing the moment and focusing on the small space in front of them. They bait the hooks with fresh fish eyeballs, cast the lines into the dark slushy water raising and lowering the rods rhythmically in an effort to attract fish.
It’s time to pay attention to my chilled extremities. I sling the camera over my shoulder.
“Packin’ it in?” Ron inquires.
“Yes, I am cold. I need to move.”
Laurie laughs. “You’ll get used to it! It’s mind over matter.”
“Maybe, first I need warmer clothes!” I wave and continue my snowshoe excursion. The sun is too bright for great images. I ask myself how many fish might get pulled from the lake today, and how much water might be drawn to sustain 25 % of Saskatchewan’s population?