Dany sings Sunday !
Ice fishing on Massawippi
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.
Philip Church drops his baited line into the hole before setting up his ‘tip-up’.
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.