How I Learned to (Almost) Love Ice Fishing

Ice fishing: the sport of champions (and those with great circulation) (Photo: Thinkstock)

When Manoir Hovey, a small inn in Quebec, invited me up to go ice fishing, my first response was “No thanks; that combines two of my least favorite things.”

And yet, a few months later I somehow found myself standing on 13 inches of ice topped with a few more of snow, wearing six layers, on a January day with brilliant sunshine, a clear blue sky, and a midafternoon temperature of minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit. And don’t tell me there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear: I was wearing the top-of-the-line clothing I’d invested in to climb Kilimanjaro. This was not ideal weather. But somehow I was not hating every moment of it.

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It’s good weather for ice fishing (i.e., brutally freezing). (Photo: Ann Abel)

That partly had to do with the hotel’s luxury take on the sport (if you can call it that), which involves a hot-beverage station, a warming stove, and a portable pizza oven. But I could have sipped tea and eaten snacks by the fire inside. What kept me on the ice was seeing the passion of the other guests — who were new to ice fishing but had come from as far afield as Virginia and California — and of Florent Hébert, who has been fishing on Lake Massawippi, behind Manoir Hovey, for 25 years and leads complimentary excursions in ice fishing (and warmer fishing in summers) on Saturday afternoons for guests of the inn.

Florent teaches that pizza goes great with ice fishing. (Photo: Ann Abel) 

After he finished crisping the pizza in front of the fire, he led us on a tour to watch him adjust the lines for bass, perch, and pike that he’d set before we arrived. He used custom contraptions that would swing down when something bit, or he jiggled a rod in his hand to “tease” the fish. In between darting from hole to hole, he regaled us with jokes and stories about fishing, which still excites him as much as it did when he caught his first bass as an 11-year-old boy at summer camp. Like the time when he fell asleep on the ice with a towel over his face to protect it from the sun. He was awakened by the provincial police, who were called by a concerned woman who’d seen his supine body and presumed he’d had a heart attack.

A great catch makes all the shivering worth it. Almost. (Photo: Ann Abel)

I have an extremely low tolerance for cold and only marginally more patience for fishing, but how could anyone not respond to that kind of passion? While I didn’t go as far as removing my gloves to bait a hook with a smelt, as did several guests, I started to enjoy the experience. And I even saw the appeal, at least for people with better circulation than I have.

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I lasted a whole hour before my numb feet implored me to stop standing on ice. I’d been hoping to see Hébert catch something, but it was an unusually slow day — perhaps that abnormally frigid temperature had been too much for the fish as well. Then again, the appeal of fishing has never been just about reeling one in. It’s the process and the anticipation — and, of course, the socializing.

And a warming stove and pizza hut don’t hurt.

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