Before that January weekend, I had never fished from bed.
There were other firsts. It was my first snowmobile excursion in Nopiming Provincial Park, Manitoba. My first time fishing that particular lake. And my first time staying overnight on the ice. When the idea of an overnight ice fishing trip came up, we knew we had to try it. My partner, Bruce, and I love to sneak away to those off-the-beaten-path lakes. Fish and wildlife are plentiful. People are not. Those wonderful days always seem to end too soon, and so the idea of staying past everyone else’s home time made us giddy. Two hours on snowmobile bush trails put us on Rat Lake. We parked in a sheltered bay bordered by frozen marshland and dark forest. We set to work unloading our cargo: a six-person ice shelter, cot, sleeping bag, heater, a few kitchen supplies and our fishing gear. Then we drilled about a dozen holes and fished for the afternoon with friends who had come along for the ride.
Our company hit the trail before daylight started to fade, and before the best fishing of the trip. This time our day on the lake had not ended too soon. Our reward was an hour of heavy perch and walleye action as the sun was setting.
We were pleased with our decision to tough it out; maybe even a little smug. But as darkness set in and the temperature dropped toward -20, that pride changed to apprehension. The cot and sleeping bag were adequate for winter camping, but our floor was bare ice with three 10-inch holes to the water below. Plus we knew that in order to stay safe, we should keep our propane heater turned off while we slept. The experience that night was incredible. The darkness in the fishing shelter was absolute. Ice hung in the air. We had to tuck our faces inside the sleeping bag to keep warm. The lake boomed around us all night as the ice cracked and shifted.
The lake delivered our morning alarm when a crack ripped the ice directly beneath us, shifting our cot. We grabbed our rods and jigged from bed while making morning coffee on the camp stove. Then we were back outside to break open the previous day’s holes.
We hooked many fish that weekend during the hours when most anglers are off the ice. As we look back, though, we realize that our angling success was a minor part of the experience. Our best memories are tied to all of the firsts that came with the decision to stay when others went home.