Reader-Submitted Story

Morning Ice Fishing at Lac La Nonne
by Lauren Panaro  

We turn right off the highway at the carved grizzly bear statue. Past the dump. Right again by the chicken farm. The only traffic is other pick-up trucks on their way to Lac La Nonne. Down the hill, left at the trailer park, follow the road around a bend. You’ll be on the edge of the lake by the trees and out past the little log cabin there’s the boat launch.

Our Ford F-150 eases down the ramp onto the ice. Instinctively I brace my stomach for the bump; we’ve leveled out again and we’re driving over the water on a vast Alberta lake.

Our spot is landmarked a third of the way between where the rocks jut out on the east side of the bank and the peeling blue fishing shack on a skid. It’s been orphaned here all winter. Roll down the windows and undo your seatbelt just in case the eighteen inches of ice does crack. We’re here. Should be fine, the weather’s been a steady minus ten for weeks now.

I paw for my sunglasses in the console, tired early-morning eyes can’t handle how bright the sun reflects off the frozen lake. It’s so bright I sneeze. We aren’t the first ones out but getting there at the top of the morning means we got our spot. There are hundreds of icy molehills across the surface of the lake marking every fisherman’s attempt at finding his honey hole.

We park the truck against the wind to shield us, at least to start. Seems it’s always the farthest hole in the middle of nowhere that delivers. I pull on my big ugly waterproof Sorel boots over itchy wool socks. Snow pants, parka, neck warmer, touque, fingerless gloves and mitts overtop. The swish-swish-swish of my nylon pants chafing together is the only sound as I start unloading. The cold is setting in and I feel my eyelashes start to frost against the dark lenses of my glasses.

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A grunt behind me as my husband yanks the cord on the auger; the smell of gasoline smoke rises up as he drives the spinning blade down into the lake. The grinding whine stops when he breaks through ice, then starts again when he reverses the blade. It’s flinging almost-frozen water in all directions, sloshing out through the newest hole. It freezes again quickly, as I strain the snow out with a rusty old spider strainer repurposed from someone’s kitchen. Clear sight to the sandy green bottom of the lake.

Some go for the pike or walleye, they make a sport of it with their slick cases and colourful rods. We know what tastes good, we’re here for the perch. The smaller the fish, the sweeter the meat. There’s nothing like fresh little fishies out of a winter lake fried up for supper.

We flip over the old painter’s buckets for seats and unwind a fishing line each. My fingertips will start to numb soon but it’s necessary to feel the nips of perch. Seven inches in length or so is the size of fish I’m going for. No point using a rod here. We’ve got a Ziploc bag of maggots in sawdust for bait—I like the dyed pink ones so we don’t lose them on the unending whiteness. I squeeze a couple on to a hook, popping their fat round wormy bodies.

My partner is catching fish. He’s already snapping his line to the side, a sharp reflex to hook the first catch. He pulls the line up hand-over-hand and throws the wiggly green body onto the ice beside him. Then he baits the hook again and dips it back in. I slowly continue to unwind my line, feel for the bottom of the lake, lift it a few feet, jiggle and wait. A quick chill runs up my neck into my shoulders. With one hand I unscrew the thermos lid and sip my steamy coffee.

I stare out at the bank of the lake. In the summer it’s rowdy and loud, boats going up and down full of families and high school kids. Now it’s still and silent, skeletal trees waiting for spring stand guard along the edge. Another group has a fire going, campfire smoke mixes into the sharp frozen air and I hear the rhythm of the Rolling Stones from their car stereo. The warmth of the sun on my cheek battles with the chilly gust of wind at my neck. I zip my collar a little higher.

Now it’s a competition, who’s going to limit out first. We get ten perch each, enough for a healthy dinner. He’ll clean and scale them while I prepare a simple green salad. They’ll be floured, salted and fried in oil, eaten straight out of the pan while we stand at the stove. No plates, no forks, no manners. The deep tiredness of a cold day on the lake ends with full bellies by the fire.

For the previous Reader Story, click here.