Book Review: Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies by Robert Montgomery

fish, frogs, and fireflies

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies

There are many wonderful books written about the outdoors. Whether a book takes the form of a “how-to”, follows a long and interesting story, or provides history of a beloved past time, there is sure to be a genre to fits everyone’s needs. To me, there is always a need for collections of short stories and essays about the outdoors. It’s a simple way of sharing ideas, swapping fish tales, and making points. These are the types of books I’ve been looking for more frequently, as I find they fit into the time I have available for reading, and they tend to bring up more emotions than a book focusing on a single subject.

When I saw Teeg Stouffer, founder of Recycled Fish (an awesome stewardship organization you should know about), was giving away a copy of Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies – Growing up with Nature, I immediately put my name in for a chance to win it. Luck proved to be on my side and the book arrived in my mailbox a short while later. To be honest, I asked Teeg to sign the book for Darrell, because I planned to give it to Darrell for his birthday, which I did, but I happened to read the book before he had a chance!

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies is a collection of short stories and essays by Robert Montgomery and a host of other authors (including Teeg). While the stories cover a range of topics, they all have something to with nature. Most of the stories boil down to life lessons learned thanks to interaction with nature, and why that connection is so vitally important.

This book sat on my nightstand for a few days and I looked forward to going to bed each night so I could read a few more stories and let my mind drift through my wonderful memories that have their place in the outdoors.

Some of the stories are lessons on how to introduce others to the joy of the outdoors. They provide interesting insight into the variety of ways you can pique someone’s interest and hopefully start them on their path of enjoying nature. The story, The Ichtymammalia Question, really stands out for me in this context. I won’t ruin the fun of discovering it for yourself, but I will ask, do you know how to classify a mermaid?

Other essays discuss the need for conservation (not preservation), and discuss how we value the natural world, and if it’s possible to put a price on it. What Is a Trout Stream Worth? will get you thinking about the problems we face in trying to promote the values of the natural, and some of the discussion points that can be brought up.

Robert Montgomery has a knack for inserting humour into an otherwise somber tale, sharing the sad moments from a life outdoors, and how they were turned into valuable life lessons. He also shares the fun and joyful moments, the observations that make long-lasting memories and cause people to smile at their remembrance.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and anyone who is looking for a reason to spend more time outdoors. Read some of the stories to a child and give them a reason to go outside. Use it as a tool to teach respect for the natural world. Leave it around the house and hope that someone else will decided to pick it up and get hooked on one of the stories. Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies is published by NorLightsPress. You can buy a copy of the book here.

Disclaimer – This review is my opinion and I received this book for free as part of a contest. I have no association with NorLightsPress or Robert Montgomery and was not reimbursed or paid for this review.

Snow Hiking And Colourful Feathers At Harrison Park

For the past couple of months we have experienced record-setting cold temperatures, frigid wind chills, and a steady accumulation of snow. While winter can be an enjoyable season, this year’s weather has made it anything but. Ice fishing outings have involved a lot less moving around and far more time in the hut. And though I enjoy spending time with the horses and chickens, survival instincts have ruled as my visits become shorter and more geared towards keeping everybody warm, including myself.

When yesterday warmed up to -8C, and the sun shone like a summer’s day, Darrell and I decided it was high time we escape the confines of four walls and take a trip to somewhere we could do a little hiking.

Harrison park

Taking a walk through the forest at Harrison Park.

Our destination of choice was Harrison Park in Owen Sound. We’ve been there many times in the past, but our exploring was usually limited to the Harrison Park Inn Restaurant, where we would stop for some battered mushrooms after a day of fishing. This time we brought the dogs and our winter boots, hoping to enjoy the beautiful day. Since we arrived around lunch, we made our usual stop at the restaurant before hitting the trails. The dogs begged for a mushroom but had to settle for carrots.

As we got ourselves organized, vehicles full of children and toboggans pulled into the parking lot, with their young occupants racing towards one of the best toboggan hills I’ve seen in recent years. Some older kids decided to skip the hill in favour of scaling the valley wall and sliding back down in the deep, powdery snow, often tangling up with those that had descended before them. People arrived with snowshoes, heading for the path least-traveled, having some fun with the deeper snow. Laughter, smiles, and rosy cheeks were everywhere.

We set out with the dogs along the portion of the Bruce Trail that passes through the park. Jack and Molly pulled at their leashes, eager to investigate new smells and make new friends. Other visitors had created some side trails, so we took advantage and explored more of the forest. Standing up higher we found a beautiful view of the Sydenham River. The river was nearly frozen over, but the sunshine was working its magic and melting the ice, causing large chunks to break off and go crashing downstream.

Sydenham River

The Sydenham River

I managed to stay upright for most of the hike, until I tripped over a log on the descent and went bodysurfing through the fluffy snow. It was too nice of a day to care about it, so I laughed and righted myself, as Darrell tried hard to get his laughter under control while keeping the dogs from jumping on top of me.

The snowmobile trail travels through the park and we spent a few minutes watching some incredible machines pass by us. We now live in a great area for snowmobiling, and you can be sure a couple of those toys are going on our wishlist.

We walked through the park and I got my first glimpse of where the campsites are located, with Darrell pointing out the sites that his family had preferred over the years. It’s really quite a nice spot with lots of matures trees and a naturalized area following along the little creek.

A cacophony of screeching grabbed my attention and Darrell told me there was a little area set aside for geese, swans, and ducks. And oh yeah, there were pheasants. Had I seen the pheasants? No, of course I hadn’t; why hadn’t he mentioned them before? I love birds!

Harrison Park

Look at those colours!

Owen Sound

This Lady Amherst’s Pheasant was stunning.

Harrison Park

This Reeves’s Pheasant was super neat. Not only does he have amazing colours, but he was curious as could be, coming up the wire and chattering away. He didn’t seem perturbed in the least.

Since the dogs were not allowed within the bird sanctuary, we had to take turns walking through, but wow, it was worth it. The pheasants were beautiful. So many different colours, so much variation – I could have spent the entire day observing them.

We concluded our day with a walk down the Freedom Trail, a nice pathway that follows the river and provides some exceptional views.

Owen Sound

The Freedom Trail

Owen Sound

A perfect day.

Owen Sound

There’s nothing like a walk through the trees.

Harrison Park proved to be the perfect destination on a lovely winter day. I can’t wait to go back.

A Long Way To The Back At Island Lake

For years I’ve heard stories of big fish coming through the ice at the back of Island Lake in Orangeville. “I caught the big crappie on the edge of that hole” I was told. “There are some monster pike back there” said others.

This one deep hole in the entire lake is a decently long boat ride with an electric motor, so I’ve never felt the desire to hike back there on foot, with an ice hut and fishing gear. But today Darrell wanted to give it a shot, and failing to find a good excuse, I found myself trudging through the snow, towing the lighter of the two sleds.

island lake

It was a pretty winter day.

The hike would not be so bad when the ice is clear and the sun is shining. As luck would have it though, a good 15cm of fresh snow blanketed the ice, rendering the ice cleats useless except for the odd occasion when my legs would slide out from beneath me and only the chance encounter of a cleat on the ice kept me from going down. Add in the ice pellets that scraped my face, weighed down my hat, and turned my mitts into icicles, and you had less-than-ideal conditions for the walk.

Only the sight of the bridge convinced me to keep going, knowing the hole was just around the corner. Park staff had done a great job of setting up stakes to guide anglers on a safe path under the bridge and around the island. I was grateful to see those stakes, they made me feel like we weren’t the first to venture this path.

Upon reaching our destination, I was in need of a break, so I let Darrell drill several holes while I took a very leisurely time setting up the fish finder. Depths started at 9-feet and dropped to 14, then 20-feet. We had definitely reached the hole. The finder failed to mark any suspended fish – a shame really, since I would have loved to spend the day targeting crappie. It did, however, mark movement on the bottom, and dropping the camera down the hole I suddenly saw several perch swimming across the screen. Perch are really quite adorable on the camera.

We setup the hut and started fishing, with Darrell landing a nice perch on a spoon. After seeing several perch back there, I have to say that the average size seems bigger than in the main lake area. Unfortunately, the perch were not in the mood to eat, no matter what else we tried tempting them with. I settled for watching them on the camera (which is the greatest invention ever and my only real form of television).

Darrell was eager to search for active fish and drilled an insane amount of holes with the gas auger. I, on the other-hand, did not feel like greeting the cold and chose to stay in the hut, fighting with the heater every time it decided to quit working. That heater is getting replaced.

island lake

Darrell looks like he’s all alone out there.

While the fishing was slow, I have to say that it was super nice to have that part of the lake all to ourselves. There was no one to be seen, no other huts in view, no other augers running. It was just snow, trees, houses, and us. I loved it.

I did get a scrappy little pike while fishing for perch. I had wondered what I was marking on the finder since it was rare for a mark to follow that high if it was a perch. My ultralight rod bent right over and let me have a nice little fight with the fish.

island lake

Itty-bitty pike day for me.

The hike back succeeded in reminding us that we’re not as young as we once were. Both of us were absolutely done by the time we reached the truck. I have a feeling that a few muscles will make their presence known shortly.

Was the hour-and-a-half round trip worth it? Hard to say. Though the fish didn’t cooperate today, I do think there’s a chance to get some very nice ones from that area. And though the hike was a pain, it was also good exercise (that we both clearly need) and it let us having a fishing spot all to ourselves, something I never take for granted. It was quite beautiful and peaceful out there. Will we do the hike again next weekend? Nope. I need a crappie fix and we’ll either pick some waypoints from previous trips to Island Lake, or we’ll head to one of our other crappie lakes.

Ice Fishing 101 For Women: Laughter, Good Times, Fish

What’s better than spending a day ice fishing on a great lake, in a heated hut, with a group of women anglers? It turns out, not much!

This year the excellent Fishing 101 for Women program expanded into ice fishing and the first ever Ice Fishing 101 for Women event took place on Saturday, January 24th. There’s nowhere better to launch a new event like this than on Lake Simcoe, and an eager group of women gathered in Lefroy early in the morning to meet with our hut operator, Love To Fish Simcoe Ice Hut Rentals.

ice fishing

Our transport out to the huts.

Although I was at the event as one of the instructors (along with Yvonne Brown, Amy Nesbitt, and Corinne Lane), I was getting the chance to experience a few things for the first time, like getting a ride out to the hut! Having never used a hut operator before, and not having a snowmobile or ATV, it was a nice feeling to sit down and get transported to my fishing area, instead of hoofing it out there while panting away. Another new experience: being extremely overdressed. I was wearing my floater suit and the usual number of layers I don for a day on the ice. With a propane stove easily heating the hut, I was warmer than necessary.

Ice Fishing 101 is different than the regular Fishing 101 for Women seminars in that the morning “in-class” portion was skipped due to us being spread over three huts. To make sure everyone knew the essentials about licenses, regulations, and expectations for the day, Yvonne had previously sent out a video to the participants. This worked well and I found that pretty much everyone had actually watched it.

One of the great things about ice fishing is that it takes very little instruction to be able to drop a line down a hole and catch a fish. Most of the women at the event seemed to have previous fishing experience, though some had never been on the ice before. It made for an easy day for me from the instruction standpoint. Most of my instruction was limited to “here’s how to grab a minnow out of the bucket”, “here’s how to rig a minnow on a hook”, “here’s how to unhook your perch”, and “here’s how to untangle the lines”. If someone was uncomfortable handling the minnows I would do it for them, or we’d switch up to some plastics, but I ended up with a bunch of go-getters and it wasn’t long before they did everything for themselves.

ice fishing 101 for women

Nice roomy hut for just the four of us!

ice fishing

Jessica, a.k.a. “The Perch Pro”. I don’t know if it was a hot hole or a hot hand, but she put on a show and caught a pile of perch.

ice fishing 101 for women

Debbie looks way too happy to have this fish! I took really awful pictures, you really can’t see the fish.

The goal of Ice Fishing 101 for Women (in my opinion) is to introduce women to ice fishing in a laid back environment and enable them to enjoy a day on the ice so they look forward to going back out. If we’re really successful, the participants will not only take themselves back out, but take friends and family members out as well. My only concern was that everyone in my hut was having fun, but I didn’t realize how much fun I was going to have.

In previous articles about the Fishing 101 program, I’ve stated that I always learn something new, even though I attend as an instructor. What I learned this time was that spending a day in the hut with a group of women anglers was some of the most fun I could have on the ice.

Between catching fish and hooking minnows, we patiently untangled lines, shared stories ranging from the adventurous and inspiring, to the sad and heartfelt, we took pictures, encouraged each other, offered fishing tips in a supportive manner, talked about tackle and tried different lures, celebrated every fish that came through the ice, and laughed so much that I felt like I had a permanent smile. More than once our hut was told that we could be heard laughing in all the other huts. The hut operator came out to check on us and ended up having so much fun he stayed for 40 minutes. The ladies I fished with that day were really wonderful people.

The fish even decided to cooperate. We didn’t ice any jumbos, but the bite was pretty steady and everyone in our hut managed to bring in several fish. We were lucky to be in just the right spot to have perch hanging around all day.

I watched as some anglers went from tentative and unsure, to old-pros in the matter of hours. Some anglers went from not feeling the bites initially, to never missing the slightest bite by the end of the day. Others learned to slow down and be more gentle with the hookset. There was no teaching required, just the experience one gets from being in a pressure-free environment where you can learn at your own pace and enjoy the process.

Our hut was having such a good day that we lost track of time and were the last ones to pack up. The laughter and chatter continued on the ride back to the parking lot, and each participant went home with some new fishing swag.

While the perch may have been tiny, the smiles were big, and that was all that mattered.

ice fishing 101 for women

A happy group!

There will be another Ice Fishing 101 for Women event on February 15th, 2015. Check out the website for more information, or visit the Facebook page. Space is limited so don’t delay! While you’re on the Facebook page, have a look at the great pictures from this event.

Special thanks to Love To Fish Simcoe Ice Hut Rentals for nice huts and a great day. Check out their website for more details or to to book your next trip.

Thanks to HT Enterprises for donating rod and reel combos to the program. It was nice to have equipment for all the participants!