Paula Worthington with her first catch, a beautiful northern pike caught while ice fishing on Fawcett Lake.
SLAVE LAKE, AB - Just 48 hours ago I was sweating in my inner city Bikram hot yoga studio, perfecting my triangle pose in the dripping heat. Next, I was standing on frozen Fawcett Lake, located 550 kilometres north of Calgary, in the region of Slave Lake.
After days of snow in the city, driving north out of Calgary on the QE 2 felt somewhat unnatural, after imaging the prime conditions to the west - thoughts of snowshoeing, cross country skiing and powder adventures had danced in my head.
Instead, I was delving into my first foray at ice fishing, with expert angler Ray Kohlruss from Reel Angling Adventures to show me the ropes...I mean lines.
I’ve held my own on many, many winter adventures, but I questioned myself when Ray took a look at my trusty Sorel boots and asked, “Are those going to be warm enough for you today?” Granted, the tops of the boots are Canadiana-plaid, but they have always held up for me. I wasn’t in Kansas (or Kananaskis, for that matter) anymore.
As the lazy northern winter sun started peeking over the horizon just after 9 a.m., Ray took us out onto the ice via snowmobile, leaving behind the cozy cabin at the friendly Anchor Inn Resort - a bustling summer camping resort that in the winter offers quiet serenity with two cabin-style abodes available for rent.
Looking down the dark ice fishing hole on Fawcett Lake, and wondering about the aquatic life below.
We started fishing in shallow water, so cold and clear you could see the occasional fish lazily swim by and toy with our minnow bait.
“Keep your bait about six inches from the lake bottom,” instructed Ray, “and be sure to use this scoop to keep ice from forming over the hole.” Yes, it was that cold.
Despite the -21 degree temperatures, my time in the comfort of the heated fishing tent didn’t last long. I craved being out in the open, taking in the blue sky, treed shoreline, and the crisp unbroken snow blanketing the lake.
Braving the cold, I started to understand the universal appeal of fishing - the glory of solitude (even with good company nearby), coupled with the glory of nature, and of course the lure of the hunt.
The morning was quiet both on the lake, and unfortunately, on my hook - my count was still at zero.
After a hot lunch including hot baked beans, chicken and potatoes, I decided it was time to become a real fisherwoman.
“Keep trying different areas,” instructed Ray, who was disappointed the fish weren’t biting for me. He continued with a smile, “I hope my 'employees' are more cooperative for you this afternoon.”
Determined, I moved further out from camp, and quickly felt a strong tug on my line. Unrelenting, I reeled it in, and soon a long, sleek northern pike emerged.
“I got one! Ray, I gooot ooonne!” I shouted with excitement, cautiously eyeing the creature, now flapping on the snow, unsure what to do next.
Ray quickly came over to help me remove the hook, and given the pike was just shy of 63cm minimum length, we gently released the slightly confused fish back to his dark underwater world.
Sunlight hangs over the treeline after a perfect day of ice fishing.
From that moment on, I was hooked, quite literally - I reeled in pike after pike, each one an enthusiastic jump-up-and-down discovery for me, compared to the subdued “fish on,” that Ray quietly called when he had a catch on his line.
Soon I was comfortably baiting my hook after each catch, plunking the line into the frigid water, eager for what I would get next.
Peering down the ice holes, I thought about how dark it must be down in the bottom of the lake. Nature’s light completely blocked by a foot or more of heavy Northern Alberta ice and snow, save for the little holes with plunging baited lines that give a glimpse to an even colder world above. All winter, a thriving but forgotten world below the ice continues to carry on.
The low northern January sun hovered just above the tree-line most of the afternoon, before ducking down as we made our way back to the warm cabin and a cold celebratory beer. I took one look back at the frozen landscape, the snow settling to hues of blues and grey as the light diminished.
This may have been my first day ice fishing, but it won’t be my last. So, next time you feel the tug of adventure west, consider going north, for a unique and memorable winter adventure.
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