Welcome to Week XXXVI of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access a boat a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.
It's a Saturday afternoon and I'm at Legion darts in Yorkton. In terms of darts I'm having a bad day, not that I am ever that good at the game, but this particular day I manage only one double out in nine games.
But there was good news. Sheldon Spearman suggests we should go ice fishing at Goose Lake one day. He then says 'how about tomorrow?'
Well the forecast was for bitter cold with a chance of incredible frigid, so I doubted his seriousness but said if he decided to go out to give me a call.
After all I had not been hard water fishing since I was a teenager, so I figure it was time. I'd decided that a few weeks earlier and had purchased an ice fishing rod and reel, both still untried.
I'm not expecting a call, so I am sleeping in, one of my favourite things to do, when Sheldon calls at about 10:30. I mumble sure, hand the phone to my wife to get directions, and crawl out of bed grumbling more than a little.
A call to my son gets him moving. He is to pick up some minnows and then me.
I am up, half awake and starting to dress in layers, shirt, sweater, long johns, not able to recall the last time I've worn such a garment. As I dress I log on the computer and check the weather on the Yorkton This Week website. It's minus a whole bunch, with a windchill at -44, that's very cold in either Celsius or Fahrenheit.
I add a wind breaker layer and an extra pair of socks.
We head out to meet Sheldon.
The snow drifts across Highway 10 as we head north and I finally realize what the word Saskatchewan means; land where crazy people go out in the cold.
We find Sheldon and his son and they say follow them.
Goose Lake is just west of Ebenezer a couple of miles and a swing north.
It looks more like a slough that has bestowed the heady title of lake.
There are fish there though, or at least there are about a dozen ice fishing huts suggesting a few people believe there are fish there. Although I realize now that the fact there was no one at any of the ice huts that cold morning was an omen of what lie ahead.
We power through the snow drifts across the lake and I add a throat warmer, balaclava and mitts before drudging to their ice hut where Sheldon and his son are trying to get the gas ice auger going.
The wind is crisp, make that bone-numbing cold, but the layers are working, and yes that includes a bit of extra body weight I carry for times just like this.
The gas motor on the auger protests working in the cold. And then with an extra big pull on the starter rope it breaks.
Sheldon suggests he'll run home for his auger.
We're at the lake already, and Adam's truck has a good heater, and satellite radio for good tunes. We can wait in comfort at least.
So Sheldon heads out, well more precisely he tries to head out. He's stuck.
No problem, Adam's truck, have I mentioned it's brand new and a four-wheel drive, will pull it out.
Sheldon has a tow rope, but in pursuit of style Adam has a push bar on the front. As he would later comment 'I have tow hooks, they're in the back seat'.
The point being here you should opt for function over style in a Saskatchewan winter my son.
It takes some figuring, but they rope up to Adam's truck and we get Sheldon free.
Adam backs up, and spins through the snow. He is now stuck.
It's Goose Lake one, Adam's four-wheel drive zero.
This time Sheldon hooks up and gets Adam going.
We back up to let Sheldon go by. Adam cranks the wheel to give room … and … yes you guessed it, he gets stuck again.
This time Sheldon can't really hook up without risking getting buried himself, so the three of us push the new four-wheel drive to get it free.
You may have noticed I have not mentioned the brand of Adam's truck to save any embarrassment, but I will say Henry is rolling over in his grave I am sure.
We put our shoulders into it, and Adam finally rocks free.
He drives off the lake and waits as the rest of us pile into Sheldon's truck and drive to join him.
We decide maybe it's best to admit defeat, and head home.
Adam and I eat our bologna sandwiches on the way home, the fare of failed fishermen everywhere.
I do hope Sheldon calls again one day, but a slightly warmer day with a working ice auger would be nice, and then I can finally christen the new rod and reel in some cold Saskatchewan water.
So with ice fishing on hold, it was home, where I could at least read about what I missed.
The book 'Ice Fishing: The Ultimate Guide' arrived in my hands recently.
I will admit my first reaction was 'wow a book on ice fishing'. I was wondering exactly what author Tim Allard could have found to fill a book.
I mean when I was young and did a fair amount of ice fishing it was pretty straight forward. Dig a hole, drop in a hook, wait. That pretty much summed it up.
Sure today I have a cute little ice fishing rod and reel, but as a kid it was a 30-inch chunk of diamond willow with a groove cut about three inches from one end. You tied on a green line that I think was something like 75-pound test (I am sure Moby Dick could have taken the hook and we would have just tied the line to the half ton hitch and pulled him in) and away you went.
Allard told me via email the book was one he had thought about writing for some time.
"I had been thinking about writing a fishing book for a few years," he said. "I found a lot of the ice fishing literature out there was published a while ago. While some principles are still true today, so much has changed in the last 10 years from an ice-fishing perspective in terms of tactics, tackle and technology, it made sense to me to come out with a more up-to-date and comprehensive book."
It is also obvious Allard is a diehard hard water fisherman.
"Ice fishing's a fun and exciting activity. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, a lone wolf angler or a parent with fish-fanatic youngsters, fishing on ice has lots to offer everyone," states the book's introduction. "The hard-water season, as it's affectionately called by ice enthusiasts, provides unique experiences, exhilarating challenges, and plenty of great fishing opportunities. To winter anglers, the ice covering your favorite water body is a pathway to new possibilities and not a barrier …
"Ice is a great equalizer. Anglers who were bound to land all summer can now explore beyond the reach of their furthest shoreline cast. Once ice is a safe thickness, mid-lake humps and long extending points become accessible. Snow machines and all-terrain vehicles let you cover more ground, but even on foot a confident ice angler can experience great fishing whatever the target species.
"Ice fishing's a very communal activity too. One of my fondest memories from this past winter was fishing out of an ice house with my wife and another couple. The four of us enjoyed the rustic luxuries of hot dogs prepared on a portable stove, the steady warmth from a propane heater, and infectious tunes sounding from a portable stereo. This was the laid-back, cozy setting for an evening of great crappie fishing filled with laughter and friendly banter about the biggest catch. Better yet, even when my adventures shift from lackadaisical ones to intense fish-hunting forays, the social side of ice angling never wanes. Winter weather or tough fishing never interferes with the joke telling and overall jovial spirit my friends and I take to the lake."
Allard has found the material to make 'Ice Fishing' indispensable for fishermen, in particular those heading to the ice for the first time.
There is a lot of information about safety, in particular clothing, which is something we may overlook. It's easy to assume the truck is close, or the ice hut has a stove, but outside in a Prairie winter it is best to be prepared for cold, or make that really cold, weather.
For the more veteran fisherman the chapters of interest are those where Allard delves a bit more deeply into which approaches to ice fishing work best for what species.
Any hints a fisherman can pick up on to help attract walleye, perch, pike and trout to bite is always a good thing.
I was particularly interested in the simple hints Allard provides about jigging.
"Jigging is a two-part game. Baits must not only get a fish's interest but also seduce them to bite," he writes in the book. "Aggressive fish often don't need much persuading, but neutral or inactive ones usually will require finessing. In the vertical jigging approach of ice fishing, the attraction of a jigging move is accomplished by the lift-fall of the bait. Whether you're using a spoon, ice jig, jigging minnow, or another style of lure, the lift-fall element of jigging is what creates movement, vibrations, and flash to get the attention of nearby fish. Depending on the action you're after, you can lift the lure anywhere from a few inches to over a foot. Now, if you continuously lift and drop a jig without pausing you might get the odd aggressive fish, but your presentation becomes deadlier when you mix in pauses as well as smaller hops and micro shakes. Now you're faking something tasty! In the same way stopping a crankbait during a retrieve in open water triggers hits, so does pausing and holding a jigging lure still beneath the ice. After all, you need to give fish the opportunity to hit your offering. Pauses may range from a couple-to-30 seconds or more, depending on the mood of the fish."
Beyond the writing 'Ice Fishing' stands out for its photography. There are lots of big fish, to be expected in such a book, but in this case the photos have some forethought put into many of them. They are not just the obligatory smiling fisherman holding a big catch. There are unique angles here which add some art to the look.
"A lot of the 200-plus photos were taken over a two year period in 2008/09, but I used images from my winter adventures going back to when I started shooting with a digital SLR in 2005," said Allard via email. "As a full-time outdoor journalist I spend a lot of time on the water 365 days a year, so I had quite a photo library to choose from."
So what is the one thing Allard hopes reader's take home from the book?
"That ice fishing is fun," he related via email. "Gear has evolved by leaps and bounds, so with the right layering system and shelter you can stay warm on the coldest days. It's a wonderful way to spend the winter. Plus, with a bit of know-how you can catch a lot of fish through the ice."
I can attest to that. I can recall several trips when I was a youngster, north of what is now the E.B. Campbell Hydroelectric Station. It was miles north and then through a field, over a beaver dam, down the beaver run and out onto a channel, it's name sadly lost to my memory.
As a youngster I recall the cracking ice as the truck moved over the ice. I of course thought the ice was about to break away at any second. Dad assure me I only need to worry if the ice stops cracking, adding ice shifts naturally and there are always sounds emanating from it. You trust your father, and just give into the excitement of being in a very different environment on your way to do some fishing.
The water in the channel was never too high, so once through the ice you were fishing in only a few feet of water. I can actually recall once drilling a hole, by hand auger back then, that went from ice to frozen mud bottom. He had hit a raised bottom area and it had frozen right through.
Maybe because of the limited water, but whatever the reason the pike were usually voracious.
At that time your pike limit was eight. With four fishing, the pile of pike was pretty high on the ice by the time we headed home. Those were about as good a winter day as a kid could have.
But back to 'Ice Fishing' the book. Allard said response to his effort has been great.
"It's been great," he said in an email. "It won first place in the book category in the 2011 Outdoor Writers of Canada Annual Communication Awards and second place in the book category for Outdoor Writers Association of America Excellent in Craft Contest. Journalist and peer reviews are good too and most comments I get from my readers have been really positive. I'm quite happy with it, especially if it helps a few more folks enjoy a good, safe day on the ice."
I can understand the response. Ice Fishing is a great book. It is written in a manner you can flip through and pick spots to pause and read. You don't have to start on page one and move through to the end. If you are happy with the ice auger you have, skip that section, and go on to what is of interest.
That's important in a book I term 'technical'. It is a book of 'how-to' and in cases of experienced fishermen there are parts which might seem a bit redundant with already learned knowledge. It's a plus you can browse past that, and still pick up techniques here.
And it's also great Ice Fishing promotes an aspect of the hobby which extends action through the winter months.
As Allard states in his introduction; "Now I'll admit, ice fishing isn't always a euphoric trip and it has its own particular set of challenges. After all, you're fishing during winter. Cold temperatures, deep snow, and fish behavior are hurdles to overcome, but they're all surmountable. Especially with the improvements in clothing and gear in recent years, it's never been a better time to fish."
Definitely a book hard water fishermen will appreciate.
So while we are on the topic of ice fishing, the Lake of the Prairies Ice Fishing Derby is scheduled for Feb. 23.
Now I have never been in a fishing derby, for a couple of reasons actually. One I do not own a boat which puts the summer competitions pretty much out of the picture, and while I love to fish, I'm not a technical fisherman so I don't always have the solution to a slow day needed to entice fish to cooperate on the catching.
Ice fishing eliminates the need for a boat, and since organizers drill the holes and assign them, you don't really need to know a hotspot to head too.
With that in mind I think I'll take the plunge and try the LotP Derby this year.
Now while the contest is open to any species found in the lake, you want a pike, and a big one.
Prizes are determined by length and time registered. In the event of a tie, the first fish registered wins. You can register as many fish as you like but only one winning fish per person.
Fish will be measured by derby officials only. The process is as follows:
• Anglers to announce they have caught a fish and wait for a derby official to go to the angler.
• Derby official will measure the total length (pinched tail) and determine the time the fish was caught.
• The fish will be released immediately after measuring.
• The information will be recorded by the derby official and initialed by the angler as verification.
The rules are pretty straight forward, and since you only fish from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm, even cold weather isn't a deterrent.
Entry fee is $50 before Feb. 1, $65 after Feb. 1.
Cynthia Nerbas, a spokesperson with the event, which is now in its fourth year, said the Derby is organized by the Asessippi Parkland Tourism.
"Money goes to Tourism Promotion of the area," she said, adding it funds trade shows, visitor guide, advertising, and similar things. While not as appealing as if they went to fish habitat, it's still a reasonable cause.
Nerbas said in 2012 there were "around 660" participants, so that is a lot of hooks in the water in a small area, holes are drilled 25-feet apart/ You can imagine the fish going a bit batty trying to figure out which brightly coloured lure with a chunk of dead minnow on it , will be lunch fort the day.
Last year the fisherman with the right touch, or skill, or dumb luck, most like a bit of all three was Wes Osbourne of Russell, MB. who hooked a 92.5-centimetre pike for the win. That would be a nice fish at anytime, so add a cheque for a nice chunk of change, $10,000 for longest fish last year, and it was a good day for him to be sure.
I know I'd love to hook one like that in a few weeks, but I probably won't, although I'll share the experience with readers either way.