Ice fishing, in one form or another, has been going on for as long as there have been hungry people near frozen bodies of water.
These days ice fishers have the benefit of a host of other food sources so it’s as much about sport as it is about necessity, and of course anglers these days have the benefit of all the modern equipment.
Yet Brian Mullen, the fishing chair of the Morinville Fish and Game Association, says while all the fancy rods and other gear are nice they’re certainly not required.
“Once you’ve got the hole, all you really need is a stick, a line and a hook,” he said. “For years that’s all I ever used for ice fishing. I never even used a rod until a few years back.”
Making the hole can be somewhat tricky – you could make a hole with an axe but having a specialized auger makes things a lot easier. Even a hand-crank auger can easily get the job done, as long as it’s sharp.
A folding chair and a mug of hot coffee can help make the day a little more comfortable, too.
While he was preparing a simple rod and hook for participants at the association’s 10th annual Bob Foster Family Fishing Derby last Sunday, Feb. 14, Mullen explained the appeal of ice fishing is actually very simple.
“Today it’s for Family Day, it’s about getting the kids out,” he said. “And really even when you’re out by yourself, it’s just so relaxing.”
Many of the people out on the Fish and Game pond in Morinville over the weekend weren’t out for some solitary relaxing. Mostly, it was groups of family and friends enjoying the nice weather.
Some of the anglers were seasoned veterans, like Scott Brown and his two sons Riley, 7, and Clay, 5, who have all been catching fish for as long as they can remember.
“I’ve been fishing probably since I was three years old with my grandfather,” Scott said, adding that tradition continues right down the family line. “I have pictures of (Riley) as a three-month-old baby in my boat.”
He said in the summer, the three of them chase the fish around, heading out to one lake or another nearly every weekend, and then some. In the winter they’re less active, but nonetheless take every opportunity to get out on the ice.
A recent windstorm didn’t even stop them as it rocked their truck back and forth on the ice.
“At Half Moon (Lake) when we were fishing, we caught about 50 perch but they were all small. We kept trying and trying, but didn’t get a big one,” Riley explained. “But I was the one that caught the most fish.”
He had a story to tell about giant fish the three caught at Cross Lake another time, a battle that nearly got the better of them.
“When dad caught it, when we reeled it in, the line was a mess,” he said. “And every time we buried him up, he just flopped out so we had to keep burying him, five or six times but he kept flopping. I whacked him a few times on the head, but it didn’t work.”
Riley’s experience on the ice clearly served him well over the weekend, as he took home the top prize after pulling a 27-inch jackfish out of the pond.
It’s undoubtedly a story that will be told again and again around holes in the ice on one fishing trip or another.
Scott explained one of the best things about ice fishing, to him, is having the chance to spend time with his family – his grandfather so many years ago, his own kids now, and perhaps his grandkids some time down the road.
But the chance to throw some fresh battered fish in the pan doesn’t hurt either.
It wasn’t just about family; there were plenty of groups of friends out on the ice swapping stories and dropping their hooks into the water, as well.
Riley Turcotte, 13, Braydon Worshek, 14, and Austin Turcotte, 12, have been coming to the annual fishing derby for years and this year was no different.
“We’ve been out here every year; we’ve just missed one year,” Austin said.
And for all three of them, the chance to get outdoors with friends in the winter is the biggest draw.
“It’s just nice to be out here. I like the sport of it and I like the challenge,” Braydon said.
“I like that you can enjoy the outdoors instead of sitting inside all day,” Austin added.
While they didn’t have much luck in the fish department, all three said the fishing derby played a role in getting them interested in the sport to begin with.
“It’s good if you get more people coming out here to try it for the first time,” Riley said.
Not everyone out there was experienced with ice fishing; there were plenty of people who came out for the first time to see if they were interested in spending more time on the ice.
“This is our first time out,” said Lyn Aragon, who came with her sons Aiden Williams, 8 and Jace Williams, 4. “We just really wanted to try this. We were pretty excited.”
Despite his relative lack of experience on the ice – he does fish in the summer – Aiden wasted no time in showing his brother how it was done.
“First, you have to go like this, then you go really slow …,” he explained, bobbing his line up and down.
Getting new fishers involved in the sport is exactly what the derby’s all about, Mullen said, and he expects that’s exactly what happened this year.
“I definitely think we did. Which kid doesn’t like to get out on the ice and fish,” he said. “It’s a great way to get the kids together, and get families out to have a good time.”
The catches were relatively few, which may have had something to do with the 27-inch jackfish that was caught – the pond is meant to be stocked with trout and trout only.
Mullen said there were 79 kids registered to fish, which bucks the previous trend of having more and more kids take part every year; last year there were about 100.
He said it may have been linked to the Town of Morinville issuing a warning three days prior that the warm weather was affecting storm ponds and warning people to stay off the ice.
Prior to the derby, however, he checked the spring-fed pond and found there was 16 inches of ice from end to end – thick enough to drive a truck on, never mind people walking.
Association president Joe Sinclair said he sees the annual derby as not just a fitting tribute to former club member Bob Foster, but also as a means of developing an appreciation for the outdoors in the community’s youth.
“It means a lot to the club,” he said. “And getting kids out there, whether it’s fishing, hunting or taking pictures, is what Fish and Game wants. That’s what we stand for.”