An Icy Fish Tale

by Sylvie O'Rourke

Comical scarecrows greet passersby on old Highway 2 just past the bridge separating Hoople Bay from the St. Lawrence River. On either side of an ice hut, one stands sporting hockey attire, the other in rubber boots and grubby tatters. A third immobile figure in a security vest and crimson hoodie marks the entrance to the road. This improvised road leads to the frozen river and a small community of huts where fishermen driving-up in their pick-up trucks or four-wheelers spend their free time.

The huts, some of them quite a distance from the shore, are intriguing. I am looking forward to crossing the ice to get a closer look at this winter village. It is late afternoon and many fishermen have already left for the day, but there are still a few vehicles parked next to rudimentary shanties. Accompanied by a small group, I walk down the snowy ice fishing road and, with a little trepidation, set foot on the frozen river. I am reassured by the presence of the trucks which confirms that the ice is quite sturdy.

I don’t know how the fish are faring, but the wind is biting. The huts appear to be the single source of protection from the elements out here in the open. Most are made from recycled materials and are rather unique, decorated with vintage snowshoes, moose antlers, flags, or paintings faded from exposure. Despite their primitive facades, I imagine they are just as distinctive on the inside reflecting the basic creature comforts of its occupants. Perhaps, some day I will have an opportunity to be invited in for a glimpse.

The allure of summertime fishing such as bobbing on the river, feeling the coolness of the breeze off the water, and enjoying the relative peacefulness of the activity itself is easy to understand. However, the concept of winter fishing seems much more complex. While the setting remains serene, the claustrophobic hut walls obliterating the scenery and the lack of cardio activity leaves me a little perplexed as to the sport’s appeal. What makes these fishermen come back here day after day? I am tempted to ask the lone man I spot fishing out in the open, in marked contract to his peers, but I lose my nerve and as such, the answer continues to elude me.

We have walked as far as we dare. What little there is of sunshine today is fading and there is little chance of a scenic sunset to end our outing. We will have to settle for a hot drink from Tim Hortons. With the wind bringing icy tears to our eyes, we make our way back to firmer ground. A few vehicles carrying fishermen pass us, likely heading home for a hot meal. I wonder if they are satisfied with their catch of the day or if they will regale their families with a tale of the one that got away.

At the end of the road, we find our scarecrow acquaintances right where we left them, standing stoically in the bitter cold. In the light of a new day, they will once again beckon to the travellers, inviting them to rent a hut in the ice fishing village and to partake in the pleasure that only a fisherman would appreciate.

Published in The Cornwall Seeker, 2 in 1 Flip Magazine, April 2022, page 6,

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