Nature 1, columnist 0

February 15, 2011

For thousands of years, maybe millions even, men have drilled holes in frozen lakes and reeled in the tasty bounty that lies below.

Ice fishing, it’s called. It’s a strange pastime practiced by a strange breed of people, and even I from time to time feel its pull.

So it was on a recent Sunday afternoon, when your hero found himself standing on top of Lake Simcoe, staring down into a black hole through the ice.

Earlier that day, the four of us had set out like Bob Izumi clones, convinced we were smarter and better than some dumb old fish that slinks around the bottom of a lake.

After we spent our first hour fighting with the auger, fighting with our tangled lines and fighting with the bait minnows, which were frozen into one big fishy clump, we got down to business. Which basically means we stood around shivering, shaking and squinting into the wind like we were waiting to catch a bus.

As our faces froze into pink scowls, we realized were probably out of our element. Everyone else out there looked like they just stepped off the pages of Ice Fishing Fashion magazine, with all the latest clothes and gear. We looked like four Canadian hosers who got lost on the way to the sledding hill, with our wooden toboggan dragging behind us.

The massive frozen lake was like a moonscape, with far-off clusters of fishing shacks and men in survival suits whipping around on screaming skidoos. It was a strange sight – but my three companions were more experienced fishermen than I was, and their confidence was contagious.

Perch, my friend Eric said, will practically jump out of the ice and into your bucket. We’d feast like kings on them that night. He pretty much guaranteed it. And Eric, a bartender, doesn’t go around passing out guarantees lightly.

Fewer species are easier prey than perch, we’re told. They’ll eat anything – plankton, worms, small fish, larvae, even their own young, which I imagine can make for really awkward Perch family dinners.

So we laid down a bounty never seen before in any fresh water lake – three juicy minnows at a time, just begging to be eaten. It would be like laying out a trap of fried chicken at your local shopping mall. Who could resist?

But when dealing with nature, it’s always possible to get outsmarted. Just ask the 2,200 anglers who came to an annual ice fishing derby on Lake Agnes in Alexandria, Minnesota, this week.

After a full day of fishing Saturday, no one caught any fish. As in, not a single one. Organizers were baffled – the lake was healthy and there were indeed plenty of fish in it.

Maybe those Minnesotan fish got the same memo circulated around Lake Simcoe.

Because we waited. And waited. And waited some more. As the sun began to drop behind the city of Barrie, we looked at our empty pails and figured we should probably give up. We began packing up our gear, without even so much as a nibble all day.

Then, a small miracle happened.

As we reeled in the last of our lines and closed up the tackle box, Eric started shouting.

“I got one! I got one!” he yelled, and scooped his hand into the water like a bear, flinging something onto the snow.

It was fish, about the size of a man’s index finger. The little thing flapped around in the air, pretending it was putting up a fight. I guess nature decided to throw us a bone. A really, really tiny one.

As we stood around congratulating Eric, slapping each other on the back and watching the little fish swim back down the hole, a thought occurred to me.

Ice fishing is a great, manly, epic pastime. But maybe next time we get a hankering to do something fun, we should try bowling. Bowling is nice.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based freelance writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at, and past columns can be read at

One Response to Nature 1, columnist 0

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ian Brown, mercerwr record. mercerwr record said: Fish one, columnist, zero. Sneak preview of tomorrow's column in the Guelph Mercury […]

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