How not to go ice fishing

A squiggly line of holes snakes out from shore onto the pond, the hesitation of the moose to cross open space spelled out by their tracks. Two moose, walking single-file, for the most part, except for that moment of standing and sniffing.

A squiggly line of holes snakes out from shore onto the pond, the hesitation of the moose to cross open space spelled out by their tracks. Two moose, walking single-file, for the most part, except for that moment of standing and sniffing. That’s where the tracks split into an O-shape, an ear held into the woods, listening for danger.

And then they’re off, the calf stepping neatly into the tracks of its mother, sometimes missing them and betraying by the sudden clutter of prints that it’s not just one moose hurrying across the pond. For hurry they do, drag marks from their hooves comet-tailing many of the snow holes where they didn’t high-step. The tracks cut across the pond in a single-minded line. No more squiggles.

Sam and I scan the other shore where the moose might still be hanging out, according to the quivering noses of our dogs and the way the snow hasn’t settled or iced up in the tracks. But they remain invisible and we’re here on a different mission, anyway: ice fishing. I don’t relish the thought of having an attentive moose audience watching us from the bushes. Moose have mastered the incredulous stare to such an extent that I’m always second-guessing myself – am I doing silly or stupid things? Why do the moose find me so surprising?

At no time is the stare more justified than when we fiddle with our cumbersome pike-hunting gear on the middle of a frozen beaver pond. Sam starts to dig away snow, assisted by the young dog who hasn’t quite figured out yet that humans rarely shovel snow to unearth mice or moose poop, two of his favourite snack foods. I sort out the folding chairs, remembering too late as usual that we should have brought something warm to put on the seats. Nothing will freeze a bum more solidly, more quickly than that innocent breeze constantly swishing past underneath a nylon seat. Oh well.

The dogs observe the unfolding scene of domesticity (chairs, a thermos and a knife) with drooping ears and tails. Stupid of humans to sit on a pond instead of following fresh moose tracks! I’m starting to agree when I begin drilling the first hole. This is putting it euphemistically – I’m really scraping the ice, bearing down on the handle with hernia-inducing strength as if by mere force, I can push my way through to where the pike are. Not so.

“Didn’t you sharpen the blades last year?” I gasp at Sam, who has excavated a second crater in the snow. He scratches his forehead and says I need to put a bit of power into it. I fight down the urge to throw the ice drill at him, having never been good at throwing stuff, and attack the ice with renewed vigour. Now I’m drilling not only for pike, I’m drilling for womankind, and by God, I shall make a hole in the ice if I have to melt it out by friction.

Five minutes later, I’m soaked in sweat and the cold breeze under the seat scenario is starting to look tempting. The ice less so: I’ve scraped a shallow bowl into it. Bowl rhymes with hole, I console myself. Close enough. I thrust the offending drill into Sam’s waiting hands and steel myself for a display of masculine skill. Do I need to watch and witness this? No. Better pour a cup of tea and readjust the waiting fishing rods, scan the forest for moose.

Behind me, the scraping sound starts up again, soon underlined with soft cursing. I risk a glance at Sam, his elbows sticking up past his ears like stubby wings, his upper body prone over the drill handle. Puffs of four-letter words keep ejecting from his lips. A certain smugness comes over me. Should I ask again about the blades? But Sam is already reading my mind.

“I must have not sharpened this last year,” he presses out and goes on to condemn the idiocy of ice fishing in general and using a hand drill in particular. Panting, he throws the drill into the snow. I mutely hand him a cup of tea. After a brief discussion about the merit of carrying axes and sharpening stones, the doubtful likelihood of catching anything anyway, and the poor dogs looking bored, we decide that coming back another day definitely beats throwing hissy fits on a beaver pond. We’ve already given the moose enough reason to stare.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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