A Return To Ice Fishing

Crankiness, exhaustion, and a filthy house are usually signs that we haven’t had a chance to go fishing. We get busy, we don’t get enough sleep, and we have no motivation to do anything. On Sunday, Darrell and I decided to fix these symptoms, ignore everything else, and hit the ice.

Driving south through thick flakes of snow, our moods began to lighten and a feeling on anticipation took over. I don’t care to admit how long it had been since I last wet a line; let’s just say I was overdue.

ice fishing

Ice that ice? And a fish? It’s about time!

Arriving at the lake I found myself falling into the familiar pattern of dressing for the ice. I added my fleece upper layer, pulled on my floater suit, stepped into my pillow-like Baffin Titan boots, strapped on my ice cleats, gathered my hat and gloves, and draped my ice picks around my neck. The routine is automatic and much loved. Despite my initial resistance to ice fishing, it now provides me with a wonderful mechanism for relaxing.

While exclaiming that he really enjoyed leaving the hut at home and having only the small sled to pull around, Darrell started drilling some test holes. Yes, there were other anglers on the ice, and I had heard reports of 12-inches of ice, but we don’t relax until we’ve checked for ourselves. The new auger with sharp blades sliced through the ice efficiently, leaving a pile of ice chips to be cleared away. Deciding the ice was safe for us, we continued walking out.

My first venture onto the ice each year always finds me a little apprehensive. I edge around pressure cracks, scan the ice constantly for signs of weakness, and make sure my ice picks are out from under my layers of clothing so I can reach them quickly. After a few outings I’ll settle down, though I never really trust the ice.

I was so excited to be out there that I actually took the auger from Darrell and started drilling holes. I don’t normally offer to drill holes with the manual auger. We kept drilling until we found solid lines on the fish finder, indicating a school of crappie. Then we set it up rods and started fishing.

Some days the crappie bite is on fire and you can do no wrong. Some days you have to cycle through different presentations before they start biting. And other times, the little buggers do nothing more than check out your lure and swim away. That was the type of day we had on this outing. Despite seeing them come in on the finder, it was difficult to convert those lines into bites.

Lack of bites did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. The longer I was out there, the more I realized just how much I had missed ice fishing. We drilled holes, watched finders, changed lures, changed techniques, chatted about fishing, and just enjoyed the outing.

Darrell managed to get rid of the skunk and land a few crappie, nothing big, but they were very much welcomed after such a long break from the water. Fishing fast and aggressive really didn’t work, only the finesse stuff fished slowly could coax a bite. For what it’s worth, it was mid-afternoon before we got to the lake, and it had clearly seen a lot of action that weekend (although mid-afternoon is usually a great time on this lake). Maybe they were slow for everyone, maybe it was just us. I didn’t care.Before leaving home I had told Darrell we would have to leave the lake at a certain time. We left at least an hour after the stated time, and I was the last one to pack up. I have no willpower when it comes to fishing.

Now that we’ve been back on the ice, I can’t wait to get out again. I’m hopeful that our weekends will again involve multiple fishing trips and the smiles that come from a day on the water. This Saturday I’ll be on Lake Simcoe (for the first time!), helping with the Ice Fishing 101 for Women seminar – it should be a great event. And Sunday…well, the appeal of chasing slab crappie through the ice usually takes over, so I’m guessing a lake with crappie in it might be in our plans.

The crankiness and exhaustion have abated, and the house is actually a little cleaner. Ahh, ice fishing…I love it!

Learn To Ice Fish This Winter

When the temperatures plummet and the snow begins to fly, most of us head indoors and seek shelter from the harsh Ontario winter. There are days when I would love nothing more than to stay in my PJs, sit in front of the fire, and pass the time by reading until the snow disappears. But winter keeps an icy grip for several months and if you enjoy the outdoors, that’s far too long to spend inside. Instead, I encourage you to embrace the season and the unique opportunities it presents. When ice covers the lakes, don’t sit inside waiting for open water, get out there and try your hand at ice fishing.

ice fish

Ice fishing is a great way to get outside and enjoy the winter.

Many people shiver and shake their heads at the idea of spending a day on the ice – I used to be one of them. Yet I have learned that a day on the ice can be quite enjoyable, and can lead to some of the best fishing of the year. The key is to be prepared and ease yourself into it.

The two biggest reasons people are fearful of the sport is that they don’t want to to get cold, and they don’t want to go through the ice.

Good clothing, proper layering techniques, and the use of an ice hut (which can be bought for a relatively inexpensive price at stores such as Canadian Tire or your local tackle shop) will help to keep you warm. For a great discussion on dressing for ice fishing, check out Ice Fishing: The Ultimate Guide by Tim Allard. After reading this book and doing some experimenting of my own, I’ve found a clothing system that keeps me warm on the ice all day long. Footwear really is the most important item and you cannot go wrong with the Baffin Titans. I’ve had these for a few years and they alone have increased my ability to stay out on a cold day. Also, many popular lakes have hut operators who will provide you with a heated hut to spend the day in.

Being afraid of the ice is actually a very smart thing. It will keep you alert and ensure that you practice good ice safety. The absolute best way to feel safe on the ice is to go with a reputable hut operator. Hut operators check the ice constantly, have lots of experience, and want you to have a safe trip so they get repeat business. Another option is to visit lakes run by conservation authorities that monitor the ice conditions. If they leave a park open for ice fishing, you know they consider the ice to be safe.

Of course, no ice can ever be considered truly safe. The best thing you can do is educate yourself about ice safety and monitor ice conditions on your own throughout the day. There are many great resources just a Google search away. Understanding ice thickness and quality improved my ease on the ice, and having safety gear such as a floater suit, ice picks, and throw rope makes me feel more comfortable on each outing.

After reading through this, you may wonder, “Why should I even bother?”

I used to ask myself the same question, but I began to realize that going the entire winter without fishing was going to be worse. And then once I started going out there, I had so much fun. Even before Darrell and I started buying electronics to use on the ice, we could venture out onto lakes, drill a few holes, and start pulling up perch on every drop of the line. We had days where 100 fish or more came through the hole. I had rarely experienced such a hot bite.

With the ice separating you from the fish, there’s even more of a surprise factor when you get a bite. It could be what you were targeting, it could be something else. Even if you use an underwater camera, you never know what may be lurking just off the screen. A few years ago I was having a slow day on the ice and saw nothing but the odd perch come through Then all of a sudden there was a pike on my line, giving me a good fight until its teeth severed the line and it swam away with my spoon. I have always remembered that fish.

If you have the benefit of some electronics, a day on the ice can be entertainment in more ways than one. The advantage of ice is that you can stay in one place, allowing you to easily watch fish on your finder or underwater camera. Some days my greatest joy comes from watching fish on the camera. You get to learn a lot about their behaviour and it’s by far the best TV program I’ve ever seen.

Then there are crappie. It’s no secret that I love fishing for crappie year round, but in the winter is my favourite time to target them. While finding a school of crappie and enticing them to bite can be extremely frustrating, if you get them figured out it will be the most fun you’ve ever had. We had just such a day last winter while fishing for white crappie with a friend. It took some time to dial them in, but eventually we all started pulling fish through the ice, including some real monsters. It was a fantastic day.

Shake off the winter blues and get out of the house this season. Go ice fishing!

For female anglers looking to get into the sport, Ontario Women Anglers is running an Ice Fishing 101 for Women seminar on January 24, 2015 on Lake Simcoe. See the picture below for details or visit their website.

fishing101_ice

Lake Simcoe is a popular ice fishing destination and the Lake Simcoe Message Board is a great place to find out more information.

A New Routine

Hello dear readers! It feels wonderful to log-in to this blog once more and feel my fingers tapping the keyboard. Writing has become an essential part of my life, but with the chaos of the past month or so, I just haven’t had time. Everyone seems to lead busy lives these days, so I claim no rite of hardship here, it’s just been one of those busy upswings where Darrell and I have had no time for fishing, no time to relax, and very little time to sleep. We’re thankful that this is not the normal routine for us, as we prefer a slower pace.

I am sitting in our new living room, enjoying the warmth from the woodstove and looking out the window at the soggy backyard. We were lucky enough to have a white Christmas, but the outside world has returned to hues of green and brown. Moving to this new house was the major source of chaos for us, as we went from looking at it, to arranging paperwork and moving in within the span of a month. That’s a lot of meetings, emails, texts, missed work days, and lost sleep. But it was also a lot of joy to get one step closer with each passing day.

In the middle of trying to make everything happen, the day I had been dreading for so long finally arrived; I said goodbye to my best friend. The pain of missing Argo is with me every day and is capable of nearly crippling me if I let it take over. It hurts to not see him when I look out in the paddock. It hurts to see the other horses enjoying this place and not see him out there ripping around, or curled up in a freshly bedded straw stall at night. I find myself thinking about him throughout the day, remembering fun times, remembering those wonderful moments when I would just stand there with him and everything would be right with the world. As I packed up the old house and unpacked in this one, I came across so many mementos of him that made me smile.

Our little piece of heaven is in the middle-of-nowhere, with farms surrounding us, and a few other homes in the same area. It’s real country living again. The first night we brought stuff to this house began with every vehicle getting stuck in the driveway thanks to super slick conditions. Two pick-up trucks with boats on behind and a 26ft U-haul were stuck in various positions when I arrived in the tow truck that brought my own truck up here. It was quite the production to get everything turned around and unloaded. The roads followed suit that night and into the next day, making for terrible driving. I’m remembering how to drive on mushy, pothole-filled dirt roads that get very icy and don’t get plowed quickly.

Moving is not a fun exercise, but it really shows how many wonderful people are in your life. Friends loaned us their truck for the move, and for a week after, which ended up making our lives so much easier as our truck sits in the driveway waiting for a new motor (Darrell’s next project). The borrowed truck moved all sorts of stuff to the new house, picked up building supplies, and carried appliances home. I’ll forever be grateful for the use of that truck. Then there was Darrell’s family. For three days his family helped us load and unload vehicles, and clean the old house so it was left in great shape. It was a hard three days and we could not have gotten things done without them.

We’re now getting a chance to settle down and unwind. The holidays came just in time for us to start catching up on sleep. As more boxes get unpacked and rooms get sorted out, the house becomes more a reflection of us. The dogs love it here. Jack was feeling the strain of the past month but now he is as happy and energetic as he used to be. He races around the back field and knocks Molly down every chance he gets. They have a ball following all of the animal tracks and scents. The horses have finally started to rebound from the double-whammy of losing Argo and moving to a new place, and have settled into the new routine. The cats spend most of their time in front of the fire.

We inherited four laying hens in the move. The girls lay eggs every morning and keep us well stocked for breakfast. As someone who spent most of her life raising show pigeons (seriously), I really enjoy having some birds to look after again.

Of course, the most important thing is what the fishing opportunities are like. They are fantastic! There are small creeks everywhere and some larger rivers. This is headwaters country and I can’t wait for trout season to open next spring so I can start chasing brookies. Lakes abound out here, a few of which we’ve fished in the past. It looks like great bass fishing is going to happen in the summer. I’m not sure about where we’ll end up ice fishing, but the warm temps mean we have some time to scout before the ice comes in.

As we fall into a new routine, I look forward to hitting the water and spending more time on this blog. It would be nice to return to some sort of ‘normal’.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to all of you!

Argo

I wrote this post yesterday as a form of therapy for myself. I can’t bring myself to read it again, so I apologize for spelling and grammar errors in advance. 

I met Argo almost exactly 18 years ago. Back then I was 14 years old, riding at Looking Back Farm with Dave and Sandi Ballard, and looking for my next show horse. Having already tried a few horses out, and feeling no real connection to them, my interest was starting wane. However, I found myself heading around the corner one December morning, to Kinmarlin, Kim Kirton’s farm. I don’t remember expecting much of the day, but I loved any excuse to hang out with Kim and spend time in her barn, so the short trip was worth it.

I arrived and watched two horses be lead into stalls. One was a beautiful grey thoroughbred who was screaming his head off, arching his neck, and running circles in his stall. The other was a plain bay standing quietly in the corner and munching on hay. I was sure that boring bay horse was for me, as my horses often seemed to be that type, but as I went to his stall, Dave stopped me.

“That one’s not for you, that’s the hunter. The jumper over there is for you.”

Really? The crazy grey? Excitement  began to build and I pulled him out to the crossties to brush him and get to know him. The grey’s name was T.C., the most unsuitable name for him that I could possibly imagine. He craned his neck as I ran the curry comb in circles, showing his approval for the grooming. I have always been a sucker for a horse that enjoys a good grooming.

That first ride was an eye-opener. His gates were perfect for me; not boring but not choppy. Then I pointed his to that first jump and got one heck of a surprise. He jumped me right out of the tack and I landed behind my saddle on his back. This horse had springs! After a few more jumps I started to figure out his style and really enjoyed myself. Kim got on for a few jumps and he jumped her out of the tack as well. My heart was already gone, this was my horse.

I took him back to the crossties, gave him a nice groom, gave him several kisses, and told him I would see him soon. There was no other horse for me.

That afternoon was spent at school, where I was unable to focus on class and I couldn’t stop talking about this horse to my friends. I was on cloud nine.

Yet, as I’ve discovered in life, the highs always seem to be followed by crushing lows. That night my sisters and I were sitting in our parents store and my dad called me into his office.

“You know that horse you rode today? Unfortunately we won’t be buying him.”

My heart fell and the tears welled in my eyes as my father continued.

“After you left Dave was talking to the lady that brought him and she mentioned that he had bone chips in both front ankles. They may never cause a problem, but they could settle into his joints and any point and make him permanently lame. The surgery to take them out would be more than the purchase price. So we’re going to pass.”

I was devastated.

I refused to go to the barn after that. I didn’t want to ride horses whose owners were too lazy to come exercise them. I wanted my horse. No other would do.

As I was moping at home one day, I received a call from my mother, telling me to gather my riding gear. I refused, but was quickly told that the grey horse would be arriving at the farm that day. Sandi had been talking to the woman who had him and found out that the horse was available for lease. She ordered him onto the van that day.

We arrived at the farm just as the horse van pulled in, and I was able to lead my new boy down the ramp and into his stall. I didn’t stop smiling that day. He was mine and I was his. I promised he that we would always be together (maybe not the best promise considering it was only a lease, not a purchase).

Since the name T.C. just wasn’t going to do, I quickly christened him Argo, after my favorite football team. The Argos were having an amazing run with Flutie, Masotti, and Pinball. It seemed  like the perfect choice.

Argo and I were capable of doing a lot while training at home, but send us to a horse show and my nerves took over. Perhaps we were the best fit in that respect. We would often be coming into a jump and I would have doubts about and it seemed like Argo would say, “Let’s forget it”. He’d stop, I’d fall off, then we’d go for a nice long walk through the fields, which both of us preferred. We had some decent classes, but neither of us loved the show ring. Yet I knew the only way my parents would buy him was if we continued to show. So we stuck it out until he was mine, then my parents realized how miserable showing made me and let me bring Argo home. For the majority of our 18 years together, Argo and I have lived on the same property, both of us being better off for it.

While Argo and I had a close relationship to start with, having him home with me made us inseparable. When I was sad I would go sit with and cry, and he would butt me with his head as if to say, “Snap out of it.” He became my best friend. Everything that happened in my life was shared with him.  He taught me everything I know about looking after horses. He had so many hoof abscesses in the first couple of years at home, that I became a pro at poulticing his feet and knowing how to manage him. I’ve often known a week before he goes lame that an abscess is brewing.  I got to know him so well that the slightest change would put me on alert.

Riding at home was much more fun than in a show ring. One day we were galloping in the back fields and I felt his pace quicken. I looked beside me realized that we were racing a big buck. I’d never seen antlers that big, and my ex-racehorse was doing his best to leave them behind. He loved to jump downed apple trees in the forest. A typical ride would find him pulling at the bit all the way to back field and through the forest, but once I turned him for home, he settled completely and would slowly walk his way back.

Our time together was full of learning experiences. Like the time he fractured his skull and my vet had just left for Florida. I called in my back-up vet who showed up around 10pm to take xrays, and at midnight was calling to tell me we were doing surgery in my barn the next day. Then there was the time he fractured his leg and my vet said he would be stall rest for six weeks. It would be 12 weeks and 3 days before he could be turned out again, and we both hated each other by the end of that confinement. He would try to bite, I would yell.

Then there was the night that Jake was born.  Argo didn’t know what was going on in that foaling stall, but he really wanted to check it out. Jake became his little shadow. At 12 weeks old, Jake was going through the fence to be with Argo, and I finally had to give in and let them all out together. Argo thought it was great fun to have this little pony around to play with.

Over the years, Argo had a variety of buddies. The only constant was that we were together. When Darrell and I starting seeing each other, I knew I was in trouble when I watched him play with Argo one night and scratch his head. Argo could be a picky guy with strangers, but he treated Darrell like an old friend.

We went through a traumatic time that saw Argo needing to move and me unable to bring his friends along. I will always be thankful for my friend Vicki, who didn’t hesitate when I called her in tears saying that Argo needed a home. She looked after both me Argo and for the next couple of years. I would drive to her place after work, clean stalls and visit with Argo, before heading to get Darrell from work. I should up at some odd hours in desperate need of time with Argo, and Vicki never once questioned it.

When Darrell and I were looking to move from our small rental home, I insisted that a new place had to have room for Argo, and Darrell agreed. Three and a half years ago we moved to a small hobby farm and Argo once again was outside my window, there whenever I needed him, and I was there whenever he needed me. Life got insanely busy and though I no longer spent as much time grooming him, every glimpse of him was enough to keep me sane and happy. He no longer wanted to be fussed over. As a very old man, he just wanted to eat and snooze.

Being a grey horse, Argo has always had melanoma. There were tumours under his tail when I first met him, and though they grew over the years, there was nothing I could do about them, and they didn’t threaten him. That changed this past summer, when a new tumour started to grow above his eye. This one was different. It grew fast. At 27, I wasn’t going to put him through anything, we were lucky to have had so much time together, so I let things be.

As I write this, I am waiting for my vet to arrive for one last visit with Argo. It has gotten to the point were eating and drinking is difficult. He is happy out in his paddock, snoozing with the old mare and acting the same as he has for years. I long ago promised that I would not make him suffer, so the time has come for me to make the decision. After years of renting, we are moving next week to our own little farm, and I badly wanted Argo to make it there, but it’s not going to work out that way. I have been crying since three o’clock yesterday afternoon. I haven’t slept. I am beyond heartbroken. This day had to come at some point, and I was never going to be ready for it. Argo is my first love, and Darrell has always known he had to share my heart. I feel like the next few days will be impossible to get through, but Argo has never been one for pity and sadness; he prefers joy and laughter. So I will spend the hours I have left with him, being thankful for all of the amazing time we have had together.  And when that final moment comes, he will be with me and Darrell, and his other favorite person, Roger Footman, the vet that has looked after him for me all of these years, and who Argo has always been happy to see.

There’s not much more to say. Argo, I will love you forever and remember you always.

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