Free ice fishing!

“Try Ice Fishing For Free Feb. 19 to 21” suggests an Alberta government information bulletin.

Grim existentialism of ice fishing the old way.

Grim existentialism of ice fishing the old way.

“Try Ice Fishing For Free Feb. 19 to 21” suggests an Alberta government information bulletin. That means you do not have to hold a licence, but you do have to otherwise obey the Sportfishing Regulations.

Minister of sustainable resource development, Hon. Mel Knight, is quoted thus: “Ice fishing is a great way to help winter fly by . . . It’s exciting to pull a fish up through the ice, and with no need for a boat, families can easily give this sport a try. . . .”

There may actually be dire need for a boat — a lifeboat. At the end of the bulletin are nine caveats and cautions about the common occurrence that, instead of a fish coming up through the ice, you and/or your vehicle with all hands aboard go down through the ice.

No mention is made of the increasingly frequent incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from the deadly combination of too many space heaters in too many ice shanties with poor ventilation.

Long-time readers will know that I have never been enthusiastic about ice fishing, but I was saddened recently when Neil Waugh, in a recent outdoors column in The Edmonton Sun, mentioned “the grim existentialism of ice fishing.” I thought he loved it.

Maybe Neil just does so much ice fishing in the line of perceived duty. But in a more recent column he used the same phrase to describe a sunny winter day fishing the running water below Dickson Dam. Maybe it’s just that Neil got skunked as badly winter streamer fishing the Red Deer as he generally does in that dark ice fishing tent of his, or perhaps it’s a bad dose of seasonal affective disorder, a.k.a. the shack nasties.

Existentialism? It’s a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe. It works for me when you add “grim” and apply it to ice fishing.

Neil and I are possibly behind ice fishing times. Recently I saw an account of the catching of a probable new world ice fishing record walleye in Saskatchewan by a gent who first drilled a series of holes with his Laser Mag Auger. Then, as he was jigging away, something big appeared on his Marcum LX-3 flasher unit, the “separation” of which was so precise he was almost able to guide his spoon right into the big walleye’s mouth.

A faithful reader reports a huge pike eating his perch-coloured underwater camera on two occasions. Amendment: the grim, technological existentialism of ice fishing.

I’m sure Neil Waugh has upgraded to a power auger of some kind, and he has a black ice fishing tent, the better to peer down the ice hole, and an ice skimmer so he can repeatedly enjoy the existential pleasures of watching ice freeze.

The second time sudden wind gusts blew me, in my Chinese puzzle, spring-loaded, blaze orange ice fishing tent, like a beach ball bouncing over the ice, clear to the correction line, I gave it away on the basis that it went as-is, because nobody could figure out how to collapse it.

I still have my antique hand-crank ice auger, used maybe twice, max, and it will go to anyone who wants to give ice fishing a try Feb. 19 to 24 — as a contribution to their being able to afford the sonar, radar, underwater cameras, lifeboats and other impedimenta of this “affordable” family sport.

Actually I committed the seeming no-no of actually catching fish the few times I gave ice fishing a try, which made it harder to give it up before it became an addiction, religion, like fly fishing, philosophy, grim existentialism, whatever. One day on Sylvan Lake, using bobbers to suspend our maggots in eight meters of water, we pulled dozens of perch up through the ice, just as Mr. Knight’s bulletin says, one 10 cm long, the rest tiddlers.

Better still was the day somewhere when burbot, ling, lawyers, Newfoundland brown trout, whatever you call them, the ugliest fish in fresh water,

swallowed our smelt after smelt intended for pike or walleye. Then, as

soon as you pulled one up through the ice, it would snap into coils around your arm, a slimy Chinese puzzle.

Yes, after such triumphs, it was hard to eschew ice fishing, but I am still in recovery, taking it a day at a time, with an organization I founded, SWAAAT, for Solid Water Angling, Algoholics Anonymous, Too. “Algoholics” has got nothing to do with certain beverages I am reliably told might be consumed in some dark, smoky ice shanties and black-out tents. “Alg” is Swede for moose, and I thought we should throw in moose hunting — even though I have never indulged — another form of grim existentialism become a serious social disease. The way it works is that whenever you feel the onset of an irresistible urge either to ice fish or hunt moose, you just call a fellow SWAAAT member and he’ll invite you over for a few drinks instead.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.