Though we weren’t lucky/good enough to get on the Top 150 Leaderboard (or good/lucky enough to get a fish at all), I did enjoy my day at Gull Lake on Saturday. It was a good experience, and opened my eyes to things we just don’t experience at home (snow, ice, coldness, windchill, frozen lakes…). Would I do it again? Probably not. BUT I would try ice fishing again providing there was a tent…and heat. Comfort ice fishing, none of this “backs to the wind” business.
Anyway, here’s a blow-by-blow account of what happened on Saturday, from start to finish. There wasn’t a great deal happening from my perspective (my involvement was mostly standing/sitting around looking at a hole in the ground), but I’ll do my best to describe it all to you. If you haven’t already seen them, I posted some pictures yesterday. There’s the link in case you wanted visuals.
Right then. Let’s start from the beginning.
Early. Early. Really early. Dark. Tired. And cold.
6:40am?! What nonsense is this?!
Urgh. After cursing all that I could think of, I dragged myself out of bed and got dressed. Long underwear (torso and trousers), sweatpants, t-shirt, warmest sweatshirt that I have, ski-pants, socks, socks, another pair of socks, big coat, trapper hat and finally…gloves. Oh, and boots.
Becky was the competitor I was helping, and my ride to the event (Vanna had to work). I switched out boots and gloves, then I was ready to go.
To The Lake!
The first task was to find somewhere to park. As the Extravaganza is a big event bringing in thousands from across the world (there was even some Manchester United fans there last year…), the landowners around Gull Lake use the opportunity to make some cash. And they really do rip you off; twenty bucks was the price listed on all the signs leading towards it. Becky eventually chose a lumberyard across the road from the entrance. Given that I was pulling the heavier of the two sleds (not that I minded, of course), I was rather glad we were so close.
We unloaded our goods (extra clothes, food, warming packs, fishing rods, bait, chairs, fishing equipment etc) and made our way across the road. From the highway, you could see all the huts and people milling around on the lake. It was pretty cool (at least for me), and I would have loved to take some pictures, but there was a queue of people behind me and I was busy pulling the sled. We’ll just have to use our imagination, I suppose.
First Step On The Ice…
Now I haven’t mentioned this before (well, I might have…but I don’t think so), but ever since my youth, I’ve had a, uh, fear, of walking on frozen lakes. As part of my school’s designs to scare us from doing anything remotely dangerous (they also warned us off motorbikes with a picture of a dead granny with a bloody nose), we read a legitimate children’s story about the perils of a frozen pond. I don’t remember the name, but it was about two boys in wintertime. One of the boys saw a frozen pond and thought they should walk on it, despite all the warnings at school and on signs. The other boy was reluctant, but agreed. So the boys went on…and the reluctant one fell through and died. The rest of the novel was about the first boy dealing with the guilt.
I read that before I was 11, ladies and gentleman. Can you blame me for being apprehensive about ice fishing? I know it is illogical (huge heavy trucks drive on them all the time!) but after reading that…nightmares, people, nightmares.
Well, nothing happened. Obviously. To be honest, I didn’t even register it until I had been on it for twenty minutes. And even after seeing that there was only inches between me and dark, icy water, I was okay. But then again, there was thousands of others milling around, so my anxiety was subdued rather easily. Would I be so comfortable if I was the first to step onto a frozen lake? I very much doubt it. Saturday, however, I faced my fear and I’m considering that a success. Go me!
Finding Our Spot
As an experienced fisher, Becky wanted to fish at a particular depth. So we walked (while dragging our sleds) for maybe half a mile until we were happy. You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned the cold or the wind yet. Well, that’s because I hadn’t noticed it (in all those layers, I’d hope not). Well, that soon changed when we started walking on the lake. My cheeks, covered by a scarf and a balaclava (forgot to mention those earlier…whoops), were freezing. My eye closed up because the wind was too powerful to keep it open, and my nose began to run. After a few minutes of this, I went to adjust and found my eye, which had been watery, was frozen shut. And my moustache was covered in ice.
Wow. I’ve never had that happen before. I’d been outside for less than ten minutes (only 6 hours, 50 minutes to go!) and already I was being turned into Captain Caveman before he was thawed out. Not a great start.
With our spot found, the first step was to chisel out the ice holes (you’re allowed to use four), a task made harder when Becky dropped her chisel through the second hole. We persevered without one, and finally we could see the water in all 4 spots. Becky set up her fishing rods etc while I stood with my back to the wind. Surprisingly, I was rather comfortable. My hood protected my face, and the rest of my body was pretty toasty too. With the Extravaganza to begin at noon, we just needed to keep warm for another hour or two. Sitting on our chairs with a blanket over us…how hard could it be?
By eleven, my fingers started to get cold. We had heating packs (those ones you expose to air) but I was reluctant to use one, so I waited. Bad decision. Ten minutes later, I couldn’t wait any longer and took my gloves off to get one. In the thirty seconds my hands were exposed…oh man, they were freezing. Painfully cold. They looked like Papa Smurf’s hands when he isn’t wearing gloves. I put them over the fire, and eventually I could feel my fingers again. With the heating packs working, I shoved them back in my gloves and kept them there. Not fun, but they’ll be sorted now, right? Those heating packs last for hours! I’ll be okay…
No I Won’t!
The packs lasted for thirty minutes! What a load of rubbish! So, quick as I possibly could, I opened up two new packs (which can’t be done with gloves on, obviously, as that would be too convenient) and switched them out. I just about managed it. But then I had another problem…
My Toes, My Toes, My Toes!
Just as the competition was starting, my toes started to freeze. So while Becky was moving between the holes to set up the rods, I was silently fretting about frostbite. I could have gone into a warming house and put warming packs in my boots, but that would require a lot of effort as my boots were on really tight. I was concerned, but not that concerned. So I ignored the pain, and waited for the Extravaganza to be over.
3 More Hours
I sat down, walked around, watched Becky try different techniques, and ate. That was more or less all that happened while the competition was happening. Occasionally we’d get a brief moment of excitement when a fish nudged our lines, or when everyone started cheering because they’d spotted someone running with a bucket towards the weighing station. Otherwise there was a whole load of nothing.
Vanna eventually turned up in the final thirty minutes. I went to greet her, and sat with her while she got something to eat. They were giving out free food as the competition was almost over, but I was more concerned about my feet. Thankfully they’d started to warm up by then (sitting in the hot tent probably helped), so I was able to stop obsessing about frostbite.
Once we’d finished there, the Extravaganza was over. The winning fish was over 4lb, while the smallest winner was a paltry .25lb (so had we caught a fish, ANY fish, we would have won a prize…damn). Becky had already finished packing up, so I started pulling the sled (Vanna took pictures of me in action which you can see at the link above) back to the car. 4pm and it was over. We went home, chilled out for a few hours, and went to bed.
So…that’s that. As I said in my introduction, I wouldn’t go to the Extravaganza again (I’ve given it a go, but too cold for me, thank you very much), but I would be willing to try ice fishing where there is a good chance of actually catching something. And where you’re allowed to sit in a tent (I really can’t play that factor up enough) and don’t need to wear 10 layers. I know people enjoy going fishing for the peace and quiet, and anything else is a bonus, but when it’s that cold I need more than tranquility; I want a big fish that we can gut and eat. Ideally with chips, and maybe peas.
Yum. That would at least make risking death somewhat worth it.