As we rattle and rush across the icy surface of Lake Simcoe, I look out the porthole window of the Bombardier R12, watching the snowy world blow by. It’s like being transported in a school bus, really – the same dull roar and smell of exhaust and uncomfortable seats – except with dual tracks and skis in place of wheels. It’s an early morning in February and we are heading toward a group of fishing huts where we will spend part of the day. I’m 12 years old, and so excited to be going ice fishing for the first time.
My classmates in Mr. Oldenziel’s Grade Six class are having a morning of sex education. My parents have opted to send me instead on a classic Canadian outing with a friend and his dad; the latter is a hunting and fishing columnist for the Toronto Star. It was sex ed or ice fishing and I’m glad to be heading out on the lake.
The class will probably just be a bunch of science, anyway – how men and women’s parts work together, and how babies grow. Nothing about the stuff that gets us boys guffawing, even if I’m not exactly sure why.
The tracks of the old “bombadeer” (as we call them) slow beneath us as we approach a circle of fishing huts, a brightly coloured village in a no-man’s-land of white. We clamber out onto the frozen and windy lake and make our way into one of the plywood huts. It is surprisingly cozy and warm inside, with a small heater and half-comfortable seats. The ice around the augured hole is crystal clear and bright with refracted light. As I bend down to touch it, the water is cold and crisp.
I do wonder a bit about . . . stuff. Like what’s happening in my body. You know, that, uh, hardness that happens kind of randomly. What’s that about, aside from being the lot and luck of a boy?
Most of my fishing has been off a dock on Pigeon Lake, with worms and bobbers and lots of casting. Here on the ice we are using minnows, and the fishing rods are much stubbier than I’m used to. And of course no casting; just lowering the line to the right depth and trusting the spot is a good one. I wonder how we can be sure this spot will be the right one for perch or walleye or white fish. In any case, there is no option to move on to a different spot if the fish don’t appear. So we jig our lines up and down, waiting for something to hit.
I’m not exactly thinking about girls – yet, I guess. I do know there’s a lot I don’t know. About sex and whatever goes into that in terms of feelings and how you even do it. I’ve thought about wanting to hold a girl’s hand.
Our patience is rewarded – not a huge haul of fish, but respectable. It’s amazing to see a walleye come up through the hole in the ice. Dark back, glistening scales, large spiky dorsal fin seemingly large enough to be a sail. An almost prehistoric creature pulled through the time-space continuum of the ice into our world. There are also a few perch pulled through with their familiar striped sides and orange hues. Almost the same fish I’d catch in summer, in my shorts and flipflops and sunburned shoulders.
The return trip in that clattering snow machine carries a different feeling than the trip out. Not excitement, now, but that same satisfaction as walking back to my family’s trailer carrying a bucket with a few perch and smallmouth bass. Mom, dad, look what I caught!
The next day I get up the courage to ask a friend what the class was like. “Oh, it was pretty boring. You didn’t miss much; just a bunch of science stuff.” Well, that figures. But maybe maybe there was more to it than he’s telling me . . . .