Ice-fishing outing a chilly exercise in patience

When the Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists plan an outing, they don’t allow trivial things like minus-30 C temperatures and potentially dangerous windchill values to spoil their plans.
That’s why when 14 members from Fort Frances to Barwick made the trek to Sabaskong Bay on Lake of the Woods last Saturday, they did so with the resolution and fortitude worthy of a Shackleton or Scott.
After meeting at a bait shop near Nestor Falls, the group loaded up with minnows and jigs before proceeding in convoy on the ice road out to Condor Point, where they were treated to the hospitality of Candy Olson, who graciously provided her fish hut for their use.
And it was just as well because the manager of the bait shop informed them the temperature that morning was minus-40. And by the time everybody got onto the ice around 10 a.m., it wasn’t much warmer.
The first order of business was to chop firewood and build a fire in the woodstove inside the hut while others—using gas and hand augers—drilled holes.
It was so cold, the gas auger grumbled and sputtered until the fire raised the temperature inside the hut to a civilized level.
By 11 a.m., everybody had a line in the water and the wait began for the fish to put in an appearance. That wait turned into a marathon and by 2 p.m., only one crappie had been landed—and that was taken from one of the outside holes by Rick Neilson of Barwick.
Nonetheless, many people opted for comfort over success.
Fortunately, there was virtually no wind to speak of to add an unwelcome windchill component to the otherwise sunny day, so nobody was too uncomfortable.
Around 2:30 p.m., Henriette Verhoef of Alberton surprised herself with the second catch of the day—another fine crappie. That, however, was all the lake was to yield to the intrepid group.
As if sensing the need for entertainment to break up the tedium of standing over holes that were devoid of life, along came a distraction in the form of an extremely friendly and slightly-overweight black Labrador named “Casey.”
Casey, it seems, believed these strangers were brought here purely for her personal entertainment and soon found a way to keep people busy and warm. Like most of her breed, she had a fetish for sticks of any type and the carefully cut and stacked firewood seemed tailor-made for doggy silliness.
Time and again, she brought a piece of firewood to the feet of whomever was foolish enough to make eye contact with her and waited for it to be thrown into the deep snow to be retrieved.
When arms became tired, she contented herself with chewing the sticks to pieces—unless someone took them away and threw them for her.
Soon it became a race to see if the wood could be burned faster than it was consumed until someone produced a ham sandwich, which proved to be infinitely more fascinating than mere wood.
Alas, Casey’s most pathetic entreaties proved as fruitless as the anglers attempts to woo the fish and she had to content herself with staring wistfully at the object of her desire while icicles of drool grew from her jowls like transparent fangs.
By 3:30 p.m., most had had enough and one by one or in small groups, they headed for shore and the promise of hot drinks and dry socks.
The atmosphere was far from defeatist, however. As RRVFN executive member Ahlan Johanson philosophically observed, “A bad day of fishing is better than a good at work.”
The RRVFN will hold its next meeting Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. in the old MNR fire headquarters on Scott Street. A guest speaker from the ministry will be on hand to talk about the status of deer and moose in the district.
Then on Wednesday, Feb. 11. the group will hold its annual “Wolf Howl” at the Neilson residence near Barwick.
For information on membership and activities, call Henry Van Ael at 274-2988.