Dany sings Sun­day !

Ice fish­ing on Mas­saw­ippi

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Hat­ley

Af­ter see­ing peo­ple ice-fish­ing on Lake Mas­saw­ippi for years, I fi­nally got a lit­tle taste of what all the fuss is about, last Fri­day, when I got a les­son in ‘la peche blanche’ from Hat­ley res­i­dent Philip Church, who’s out on the ice al­most ev­ery morn­ing once

it’s thick enough.

Mr. Church’s ve­hi­cle of choice on the lake is a four-wheeler, the ice be­ing much to slip­pery some­times for walking, but be­fore we headed off on it to cross the lake to his pre­ferred fish­ing lo­ca­tion, we checked out what the government bi­ol­o­gists were do­ing near the shore.

“We’re work­ing on a new man­age­ment plan for Que­bec lake trout,” ex­plained bi­ol­o­gist Syl­vain Roy. He and two other bi­ol­o­gists were ice-fish­ing for lake trout, a kind that is only le­gal to fish dur­ing the sum­mer fish­ing sea­son, as part of a study to see if peo­ple could po­ten­tially be fish­ing for them in the win­ter.

Asked about the health of Mas­saw­ippi’s fish pop­u­la­tion, Mr. Roy an­swered: “It’s healthy. We put around 6,000 lake trout in the lake each year.” “And we put in be­tween 3,500 and 5,000 brown trout each year,” added Mr. Church who is the pres­i­dent of the Lake Mas­saw­ippi Con­ser­va­tion Club. The bi­ol­o­gist and Mr. Church have both no­ticed some- thing new and puz­zling this win­ter: parts of the lake never froze over. Mr. Church has also found, for the first time, many holes on the lake, about eight inches wide, in places where the ice is in­ex­pli­ca­bly thin, a re­minder of how im­por­tant it is to stay vigi- lant and ‘know your lake’ when you ven­ture out onto the ice to catch your sup­per. “It’s made me more cau­tious. I don’t go on the ice un­less it’s at least six inches thick.”

Glad to be wear­ing many lay­ers of cloth­ing and my warm­est win­ter boots, we ar­rived at Mr. Church’s fish­ing spot. The first thing to do is drill a few fish­ing holes; one in­di­vid­ual is al­lowed no more than five rods go­ing at once. I got to try out the mo­tor-driven auger, drilling a good hole into ice about twelve inches thick. “The bi­ol­o­gists were drilling eight inch wide holes but I drill mine five and a half inches wide. I like the smaller holes be­cause your rod can’t go fly­ing down it!”

Once the hole’s been made, you can use ei­ther a small ice fish­ing rod that’s only about two and a half feet long, or a ‘tip-up’, a de­vice with a weighted flag that pops up when a fish has nib­bled on the bait.

Speak­ing of bait, there’s no place for the ‘squea­mish’ in ice-fish­ing. A pop­u­lar bait is frozen lake smelt; not too chal­leng­ing to wig­gle onto a hook. It’s the other pop­u­lar bait, live mag­gots, that I found a lit­tle hard to take. “Some fish­er­men even put them into their mouth be­fore putting them on the hook to sort of liven them up!” ex­plained Mr. Church, adding: “But I don’t go that far.”

He did, how­ever, have a few other tricks, like weight­ing his bait a cer­tain way, a trick he learnt from an “old-timer”. “Some share their tricks, oth­ers don’t. I’m lucky in that I’ve learnt a lot from a lot of guys around here. I’m of­ten sur­prised by what works. I’ve no­ticed that lots of things work at dif­fer­ent times.”

Once the line is all baited and weighted, it’s low­ered into the icy water un­til it reaches the bot­tom, then the wait­ing be­gins. “You’ll be just stand­ing around talk­ing, then you see a flag go up and ev­ery­one runs for it.”

Like many avid fish­er­men, Philip has found a few sur­pris­ing things in some of the fish he’s caught. “I found two big rocks in­side of a laker once, and a small perch in­side of a larger perch. I caught a laker that had forty-eight smelt in­side of it. I was able to use them as bait!”

“As long as it’s not mis­er­able out or my wife doesn’t have other plans for me, I come ice-fish­ing. I like be­ing out­doors and I like the peace and quiet. On this lake, fish­ing in the morn­ing is good.”

From among the fish peo­ple are al­lowed to catch in the win­ter, Mr. Church prefers perch over the pike, bass and brown trout. “I throw a lot of fish back and just keep the big­ger ones or any in­jured fish,” said the con­ser­va­tion­ist. “My wife likes to serve perch when we have guests over,” he added.

Ice-fish­ing seems to be gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, at­tract­ing lo­cals and outof-town­ers to the lakes in the re­gion. “I wish we got a lit­tle more sup­port from some of the com­mu­ni­ties,” said Mr. Church, re­fer­ring to the Lake Mas­saw­ippi Con­ser­va­tion Club, the vol­un­teer-run or­ga­ni­za­tion that stocks the lake and hosts fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Any win­ter ac­tiv­ity that goes on in an area is good for the com­mu­ni­ties; it at­tracts peo­ple and busi­ness,” he con­cluded.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Philip Church drops his baited line into the hole be­fore set­ting up his ‘tip-up’.

Pho­tos Vic­to­ria Vanier

Philip Church sets up a ‘tip-up’ to catch perch on Lake Mas­saw­ippi.

Philip Church likes to bait his lines with lake smelt to catch perch.

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