Fishing on ice a cool deal

Sherry Martell
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RIVER JOHN - For some people in the coastal community of River John a calendar date does not dictate the official beginning of winter.
The change of the season is determined by the thickness of ice over the tidal John River when fishing shacks can be slid over the frozen channel.
"We're all waiting for the ice to come," said ice fisherman Mickey Brown.
"That's the start of our winter ... when we can begin our fishing season."
When the conditions are just right, small, colourful shacks dot the river's frozen surface offering shelter to people carrying on the deliciously Maritime tradition of smelt ice fishing.
Last Sunday, Brown and his friend Robert MacLeod launched into their annual winter ritual, carting their shack to the river then sliding it to a strategic spot on the ice about 10-inches above the channel, rushing at the changing tide.
Since Monday they have speared about three-and-a-half dozen of the shiny silver-coloured fish, a talent they said takes skill, along with lots of patience.
"Waiting is the hard part," said Brown. "The rest is pure skill. You've got to get them right in between these."
The fisherman pointed to two wire-prongs forming a triangle shape at the end of his spear with a spike located in the centre.
"Spearing them is more of a challenge and the fun of watching people miss them is all part of it," said MacLeod. "A lot of times they go by right fast, they don't stop. You've got to be on the ball."
A yellow glow from the open hole chopped in the ice beneath the shack illuminates the small shelter filled to the brim with comfort items like lawn chairs lined with Styrofoam cushions, blankets and a few snacks.
"It's usually when you're not doing anything, they come in and surprise you," said MacLeod, peering at bait lines dangling in the water-filled hole.
After a slow start early in the week, things began to pick up on Wednesday when Brown took home a plentiful feed of his favourite winter catch to cook up for dinner.
"I had flour from one end of the kitchen to the other," said Brown, sharing his age-old cooking technique of rolling gutted fish in flour then tossing them into a frying pan coated with butter.
MacLeod adds his own special touch when he does the frying.
"You save the bacon fat and cook them in that, that's the way to do it," he said.
The fishermen said a successful day of fishing depends on the tides and the quantity of smelts that are brought into the river by the rushing current. Noise disturbances on top of the ice like snowmobiles zooming by can also affect the catch.
Although the season is just getting underway, the men said compared to previous recent years it looks like catches might be good this winter.

Geographic location: RIVER JOHN

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Recent comments

  • warren
    January 18, 2010 - 09:43

    we been doing this for years there are so many fishing shacks on the ice it looks like a little village over 3feet of ice on lake wahnapetei sudbury area