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PAUL SMITH: No shoeing, no skiing? There’s always trouting

We had to tether our ice fishing shelter to the side-by-side — very windy.
We had to tether our ice fishing shelter to the side-by-side — very windy. - Paul Smith
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Rob is drilling our ice fishing holes — no axe required.
Rob is drilling our ice fishing holes — no axe required.

Winter is slipping by and there is zero snow in sight on the long-range forecast, at least nothing of any significant consequence, nothing to reset this to a proper snowy winter.

It’s Feb 5 and I’m sitting at my computer with my fireplace burning. It’s cozy in here, especially with the freezing rain tapping on my window.

Yes indeed, the temperature is rising again. In a few hours it will be pure rain and the mercury will climb to about 6-deg on the plus side. The meteorological folk are predicting 25-mm of rain between now and noon tomorrow. What little snow we have will wash away.

I haven’t strapped on my snowshoes in two bloody weeks.

Early January was looking pretty good.

I had a few good hikes on the racquets. Then the rains came, double digit temperatures, and a substantial snow cover went flowing down our rivers to the ocean, from whence it came. We’ve only had a few flurries since, and now that’s going downriver tonight. Funny thing through, in between the rain and mild spurts we’ve had some wicked cold weather. It’s just that every low pressure system is moving too far west and bringing us a southerly flow and rain instead of snow. We need winds from the north. Sadly, it’s supposed to rain again this coming weekend, high winds, too. But that’s nothing new.

OK now, I need to find a bright side in all this rotten winter weather gloom and doom. My salvation will be winter fly fishing, and unless our weather pattern changes very soon that’s what you will be reading about. Either that, or I’m flying to Florida and giving up on winter altogether.

But hey, there is still plenty of ice on the ponds. Despite the rain and mild spells there’s a solid foot of ice in the ponds I have checked here on the Avalon Peninsula. That’s good.

It looks might cold out there.
It looks might cold out there.

Last weekend I went ice fishing with my buddy Robert Richards. It was one of those wicked cold days in between the rainy periods. With the wind blowing about 60 or 70-km/h from the northwest you might say it was bitter outside. The wind chill was minus 25 or more. So we took along my ice fishing shelter, because there is no way any human could stand on the open pond nearly motionless peering down a hole for any longer than an hour in those conditions.

You’d freeze to death with three snowmobile suits on. I suppose I’m exaggerating a tad, because I’m sure I could make it at least two hours with my warmest clothes on. It’s the wind that will do you in. Why not take the tent along?

This is the only way to ice fishing on a frigid cold and windy day.
This is the only way to ice fishing on a frigid cold and windy day.

I said it was windy. No kidding — we had to tether the shelter to Rob’s side-by-side while we were setting it up. Otherwise it would have taken off like a kite and ended up only God knows where. It was quite a tussle in the gusty gale but somehow we managed to get the 6-in steel screws into the ice at the four corners. Then we sank in more screws outside the tent and secured each side with rope for extra insurance from the wind.  

Our home for the day appeared pretty solid.

I’m proud to say that I managed to keep my hands warm through this entire process. That’s primarily because of a lesson I learned while winter camping. Be sure and wear a layered glove system. You know how they say layer your clothes. Well, layer your gloves as well.

If I had only heavy mitts or gloves I would have had to take them off to secure the ropes and so on. My hands would have been freezing numb in seconds, especially handling the cold fabric and steel screws. I had a thin pair of gloves that allowed reasonable finger dexterity layered inside a heavy Gore-Tex and Primaloft outer layer.

The liners are pretty darn warm too. They are Outdoor Research Alti Gloves, meant for mountains and extreme pursuits. Ice fishing and winter camping In Newfoundland and Labrador can be pretty extreme. Years ago I used to wear wool trigger mitts inside an oversized leather gauntlet, pretty much the same philosophy.

Need for thermo resilience ended when we finished erecting the shelter. Rob and I like the idea of comfortable ice fishing. First off, Robert drilled our holes inside the shelter with his gas auger.

These will be fantastic fried up for breakfast. – Paul Smith photo
These will be fantastic fried up for breakfast. – Paul Smith photo

I remember when I only had an axe — the good old days. Then we moved in our chairs and table, along with our Dewalt battery radio for Big Tom’s Shed.

An ice fishing shelter is close enough.  Rob lit the propane heater and we settled in for a relaxing afternoon of trouting. It was quite nice, tunes playing, kettle boiling, all while the cold wind roared outside and desperately shook our fabric refuge to no avail. I had a little of that Norwegian koselig feeling. We did drill holes outside and set flip-ups in them.

Yes, we have windows.

Has anybody out there used shrimp for trout fishing bait?

I gave it a go. It seemed to work just as well as worms, but the evidence is hardly conclusive. We didn’t catch much anyway, so I’ll have to conduct further investigation. If you have any experience using shrimp for ice fishing please let me know.

I’d also like to hear other bait stories. My father always raved about a certain brand of potted mean, but I never had much success with it. But so far I’m impressed with the shrimp.

Remember those Simms knee boots I wrote about last week. Well I wore them ice fishing for the first time. They were fine in the tent, but I suspect my feet would have froze standing still outside.

Ratings don’t mean squat when it comes to ice fishing. Wear the warmest boots you have. I’m going back to my Baffin -100 Celsius logans for ice fishing.

Those other boots are made for walking.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.

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