A boldly honest manual on the finer points of ice-fishing

Find a frozen lake in Northern Ontario. This shouldn’t be too hard if you’re looking in February. They’ll all be frozen. Get yourself a friend, one who’s exceedingly outdoorsy. They’re bound to have connections with the cousin of a friend’s sister’s uncle who has a hut on a lake somewhere. They’ll be tripping over themselves to make all the arrangements, thrilled beyond belief that someone else is nuts enough to express interest in an outdoor winter activity.

Pack for the weekend. It’s going to be -30°C with a wind chill of instant frostbite and death to the extremities, so pack your warmest clothes. Think layers. Warm clothes are bulky, so you’ll need more than your teeny overnight bag, that’s for sure. Heave your giant suitcase into the back of your outdoorsy friend’s car, and try to buckle the seatbelt around your down-filled parka even though you can’t bend your arms and you’re rounder than the Michelin man in all your winter duds. Ignore their scoffing at how much you’ve packed for one night away.

Drive for an actual eternity, until civilization is so far behind that you probably have officially confirmed there is no edge of the earth.

Stop in a gas station/convenience store/bait shop/LCBO/post office in a nondescript village near your destination to buy minnows, use the toilet, and grab a cup of battery-acid-strength coffee that could almost eat though the Styrofoam cup it comes in. Drink the whole thing anyway, because the car heater can’t compete with the frigid wind and it’s worth the gut-rot to slightly warm yourself from the inside out.

Drive until your friend, increasingly excited as you delve further into the god-forsaken back country, says: “Look! We’re here!” Look around at nothing but white and rocks and snow and trees and ice and rocks and white and wonder what you’re supposed to be looking at. Follow their excited finger and squint until you can see a few dark specks in the distance on a flat expanse of white.

Inhale sharply and swallow your stomach back down to where it belongs when you realize you’ve just driven onto the ice. You’re on the ice. On a lake. In a car. Imagine the ice cracking and the car sinking into the deep, dark, deathly cold water. Try to breathe. Stop imagining. Try to breathe.

Get out of the car once it stops beside a tiny wooden hut that resembles an outhouse. Realize that your suitcase probably won’t even fit in there with you and your friend. Blow out your breath in puffs of air that plume like smoke. Feel your nose hairs freeze when you inhale.

Squeeze into the hut. Stand there awkwardly as your friend augers the ice out of the hole the last occupants drilled beneath an opening in the rustic wooden floor. Look down the hole and shiver at the blackness below the ice.

Peel off your mitts once your friend has a fire crackling in the little woodstove. Peel off your hat, and then your parka, and then your hoodie, and then your snow pants, and then wonder if you can peel off anything else as the temperature inside your little box rises and rises. Imagine the ice below you slowly melting and the whole hut dropping through, plunging you both into that blackness. Try to breathe. Stop imagining. Try to breathe.

Watch your friend thread a minnow gently on a hook and lower it down the hole to wriggle and flounder away, a tasty treat for a bigger beast, unbeknownst to the innocent little guy. Watch the line for signs of action for absolute hours. Wonder how it’s possible to be hot and cold at the same time. Wiggle your toes to see if they’re still there. Check your phone to see how long it’s been. Fifteen minutes. That can’t be right. Must be because there’s no signal here.

Watch the line. Wiggle your toes. Check your phone. Five minutes. Wiggle your toes. Take a selfie. Hashtag icefishing. Hashtag intothewild. Hashtag outdoors. Hashtag adventure. Still no signal. Stand up and stretch. Ask if it’s time for hot chocolate. No? We’ve only been here twenty minutes?

Peek down the hole again. Imagine a seal popping its head up through. Realize you have to pee. Inquire about where the toilet is. Regret. Regret hard. Regret this whole entire ill-advised excursion with every stiff and frozen bone in your body. Cross your legs. Write a tweet. “Ice fishing . . . More ice than fishing, apparently. And I have to pee.” Remember you have no signal. Try to breathe.

Tell everyone back at the office on Monday that you went ice-fishing, and bask in the flurry of attention over your outdoorsy wilderness adventure. Show them the picture of the fish that finally took the bait, the one you took at just the right angle to make its whole six inches look more like sixteen. Know that you will never go again.

Published by Aly Writes

I bake. I write. What goes better together than a good story and a delicious fresh-baked pastry? Nothing. And I can give you both. Grab a hot cuppa and join me.

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