Fall in Love with Winter: Hecla Ice Fishing

Ivan, master of the lake. (photo robin summerfield)

Ivan, master of the lake. (photo robin summerfield)

It has taken me 40-plus years to love winter on the prairies.

After kvetching about the cold for decades, I decided to try something different: I decided to embrace the cold.

All it took was a really warm winter coat, long underwear, serious snow pants and no mirrors anywhere in my home. (Looking cute is a near impossibility in winter.)

All that unflattering gear came in handy during a Late-February FAM trip to Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park and Lakeview Hecla Resort.

After a morning of snowshoeing, we headed to Ivan’s home on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba’s Interlake. This second-generation commercial fisherman, nicknamed Santa, is a hardy sort who loves showing city folk and other ice fishing neophytes to his neck of the woods.

In this case, this neck of the woods is the vast frozen wonderland of Lake Winnipeg in the heart of winter.

So a bunch of us writers, photographers and bloggers hopped into his circa 1951 Bombadeer and trucked out over the ice to Ivan’s fishing lines.

Nine of us piled into the transporter, hip to hip on the benches. Ivan hopped into the cab and coaxed the dinosaur into first gear. None of the dials worked and there was a strong smell of exhaust in the cabin. Whatever. We were on an adventure. A little carbon monoxide was worth the price. The wooden behemoth rattled and shook while we rolled across the snow-scape.

We stopped a few hundred metres from the shore line, we hopped out and Ivan demystified the life of a commercial ice fisher.

What we learned:

• The ice on Lake Winnipeg is about four-feet thick.

• Ivan, who looks to be about 70 or so, has been fishing as long as he can remember.

• Ivan has piercing blue eyes.

• His father taught him to fish and he taught his son to fish.

• They fish mostly pickerel.

• In the winter, they deploy 2,400 feet of fishing nets (eight, 300-foot nets).

• They deploy the nets using an under-ice jigger that floats up under the ice. The jigger was designed by a Manitoba man named Olafson. The slotted wood board quickly became the standard in the industry. Olafson tried to patent his invention after two years but he had waited to long. It had been in the public domain for too long and his window of opportunity vanished.

• In winter, they check the nets about once a week. A good day yields about three tubs of fish.

• In summer, they check the nets daily. On one record day, the father and son pulled 19 tubs worth of pickerel from the water.

• Ivan’s Bombadeer is named Old Helge, after the man he bought it from.

• Ivan loves, loves, LOVES to fish. He fishes in his spare time too.

One mean looking ice auger. (photo robin summerfield)

One mean looking ice auger. (photo robin summerfield)

Ice fishing nets. (photo robin summerfield)

Ice fishing nets. (photo robin summerfield)

Old Helge, Bombadeer circa 1951. (photo robin summerfield)

Old Helge, Bombadeer circa 1951. (photo robin summerfield)

Ivan's sweet spot. (photo robin summerfield)

Ivan’s sweet spot. (photo robin summerfield)

Ice fishing jigger. (photo robin summerfield)

Ice fishing jigger. (photo robin summerfield)

The prize: pickerel. (photo robin summerfield)

The prize: pickerel. (photo robin summerfield)

This trip was organized and sponsored by Travel Manitoba.

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