Ice Fishing

I’ve never managed to understand the attraction of fishing. Americans love it, so do the British. In fact, statistics show that the most popular sport in Britain is angling. That’s a fancy word for fishing. Every Sunday, there are in the region of a million or more people sitting out in the damp with a stick dangling in the water waiting for a fish to bite on a barbed piece of metal that will induce death.

Let’s consider this for a moment. Where is the entertainment value in this? I know all the stuff about the different baits and different kinds of fish and the techniques for varied conditions but when it boils down to it, you’re still sitting for hours on a sodden piece of earth in the rain with a pole in one hand and a tin of worms at your feet. Why is this called a sport? How sporting is this? Where does the activity remotely fit the definition of “sport”?

One of the things I conclude from this is that the people who do this must be astoundingly patient. They must be the most patient people in the whole world. Fly-fishermen will cast literally hundreds of times in an afternoon and sometimes catch nothing. That’s a lot of patience being employed there. They must be the ones at parties who wait at the back of the line for the hors d’oeuvres that taste like heaven, and watch as the busty woman in the loud dress pushes in and grabs the last two. They probably think philosophically, “Well, if I keep waiting, the hostess is bound to bring another tray.”

Given that fishing requires one to spend long periods of time sitting or standing in the open in a damp environment, it is somewhat surprising that it should be so popular in the United Kingdom. This, remember, is a country whose climate of drizzle and fog provides an inducement to spend wet afternoons indoors … not outdoors developing scrotum fungus on a small chair by a river.  However, apparently I completely misunderstand the attraction of this “sport”. The urge to slice one’s hands open with wire, cut one’s fingers on hooks and attempt to fit maggots onto a small piece of metal while squinting in the twilight, is a force so strong, it turns sane men into irrational creatures, unable to help themselves.

Witness the practice that takes place up in Minnesota. On visiting that northern state recently, I discovered this insanity run amok. For six months of the year, it’s cold enough to turn off your freezer and throw all your frozen food items out in the back yard and collect them at your leisure when they’re required. So presumably no fishing, right? Too damned cold. Wrong. No, they have developed an ingenious method for freezing themselves to death. It’s called ice fishing. Surely the words “ice” and “fishing” shouldn’t be found in the same sentence. Why do they do this? Why don’t they obey the message of nature? It’s cold here, don’t go outside unless you are hunting for food, disposing of human waste or chopping wood. Ask those who are driving out to fish at 9 pm every Saturday night, only they can reveal the depths of their stupidity.

Ice fishing. Is this practice driven by genetic impulses? I understand the tradition is passed on from generation to generation, so perhaps each new fresh-faced seven-year-old Svenson boy dragging his line behind him on the ice has no hope.  This is what they do: They drive out on a frozen lake in their cars. Now this is revealing in itself. Haven’t they watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Don’t they know the dangers of thin ice? Then they put up what looks like a cotton toilet tent. The point is, if it doesn’t have central heating, it’s no good and from what I can make out, it definitely doesn’t have central heating. Anyway, inside the toilet tent, they place their hurricane lamp to give them light and then they cut through the ice. Having cut through the ice, they put bait on their line and then dangle it through into the water.

And then they freeze. Or rather, they sit on a little chair, drink hot tea or chocolate and wait as their body temperature plummets to depths that didn’t seem humanly possible. I presume it’s a test of endurance more than anything else. It can’t be about the fish. It must be about the strength of the human constitution. “How long can I survive out here before I am no longer able to move and get in my car? My right arm is gone, my legs won’t move, maybe it’s time to drag myself over to the car with my last remaining functional extremity. No, hold on, I think I’ve got a bite!”

I guess there must be some who have sadly pushed the limits too far. They are the ones still there the next morning, frozen in the sitting position. You can see the Sheriffs out on the ice in the morning calling the morticians. They’re talking earnestly into their cell phones, explaining to a rather mystified mortuary owner, “For the funeral, you’re gonna need an S-shaped coffin … why? … well, you know Pieter and Pitkin Lake … right, right … ice fishing …”


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