Where a translucent morning skin of ice covered the water, Milan stood with pricked ears, his gaze mesmerized by the small shape darting over the sandy ground.
Oblivious to anything but new oxygen and light, the tiny fish scuttled closer to shore. The dog, his tail quivering with tension, patiently waited for his moment, then pounced. Thin shards of ice and water shot up, much to Milan’s amazement, while the fish swam off into the deeper, darker reaches. The dog tried sniffing underwater (a fruitless exercise that ended in a fit of sneezing), gently pawed at the ice that remained intact and enthusiastically wagged his tail.
“Are you catching mice?” I asked, since fish don’t feature in his vocabulary.
Oh yes, his eyes and tail replied.
“You go get it, then.”
He frantically scanned the water for fish, his nose vibrating millimetres above the ice, but all in vain. Dogs are such poor fishermen.
We intended to do much better. Fresh pike, we gaily promised ourselves, would be fun to catch and make for a delicious dinner. The shady trail that leads to the best pike fishing spot still harboured patches of ankle-deep snow where the old caribou tracks had melted out to gigantic proportions. The dogs ran ahead, high on new smells, and scared up the first crop of big, sluggish mosquitoes. Thin insect whining accompanied us until cut short by a resounding smack.
We struggled through the alders and over the deadfall along shore, Sam threading the fishing rods through the trees with the aplomb of a dancer while I cursed under my breath as the net snagged on yet another branch. The dogs suddenly raised their heads, nostrils twitching. On the far shore was a chubby dark shape, huddled by some rocks. Porcupine? We got out the binoculars just as the little fellow uncurled himself – a beaver. We watched as he looked our way, unsure, hesitating. His ample rump was still fluffy with winter fur, the long wispy hairs on his bum giving him the endearing look of somebody caught unawares as he just got out of bed.
We continued on a bit further until we found a good open spot where tight bouquets of coltsfoot studded the winter-dead grass. Sam handed me one of the rods, took his position a few meters to the right and began casting. I aimed towards a sunken tree. We cast and reeled in, snagged a little bit of algae and watched the countless black larvae wiggle on the greenish surface. But no pike. Instead, two loons and the beaver swam sedate circles in the far end of the dark water while the odd mosquito feasted on us.
We tried a different spot, then yet another one. No luck. “This is getting pretty boring,” I complained. Sam suggested we try at the other end of the pond. Glumly I trudged behind him, my visions of fresh fish for dinner already giving way to pasta with cheese sauce. Which is very tasty, too.
White shelf ice still clung to the north-facing shore. “I wonder if I can stand on that?” Sam carefully inched his way out onto it. The ice held. “This might be not a bad spot,” he said, and cast his line. I looked around for another opening to fish from but couldn’t find anything. At least I could offer moral support, I thought, and joined Sam on the ice. It seemed just as hopeless as before, until finally, a long dark shape languidly followed the lure to shore. “Well, at least they are still here. But I guess they’re not really into it yet.” Disappointed, we watched as the pike refused to strike. Sam cast again. As he reeled in, this time three pike swam after the lure like in trance. He jiggled his rod in frustration. The pike remained rooted to the spot as if bored. I could almost hear them discussing this food-like appearance that they wouldn’t mind to take a bite of if they were hungry. But they were not.
We tried a bit more, but to no avail. We were already on our way home when it suddenly occurred to us that maybe we should have let the dog have another try at fishing. An encouraging “Milan, catch mice”, and he might have caught one of those pike for us.
Instead, it was pasta for dinner.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.