Monday, January 26, 2009
Ice Fishing at Ste. Anne de la Perade
I was invited to go ice fishing yesterday, up at St. Anne de la Perade. The river there completely freezes over in winter and on December 26, they begin drilling the ice holes, installing the poles to transport electricity, and moving 200 cabins out onto the ice, in time for tommy cod fishing season.
My first question on seeing this entire little hamlet of cabins sitting out on the frozen river was: "Are you sure it's safe?" and was told yes, they know what they are doing; people have been going there for years to ice fish on this river. The picture at the right is a typical "street" of cabins.
Our five-window cabin was furnished with a wood stove, pile of wood, cabinet, table and chairs, a small divan, two-plug electrical outlet, and radio. Everything you need! (The outdoor toilets, some marked "Madame" and "Monsieur", others simply "Toilet", were also heated.)
It was a bit chilly at first, until we got the fire in the stove up to speed but really cozy in no time at all. We hung up our coats, let down our fishing lines, got the buckets ready, and sat down to fish.
There are 12 fishing lines attached to a bar across the wall. We used bait of liver and shrimp.
About mid-way down on each string is a matchstick positioned horizontally. The matchstick wiggles when a fish is nibbling on the bait. You just sit or stand there beside the fishing hole and wait for the fish to bite, which for us was about every 2 minutes or so.
This is the fishing hole under the floor of the cabin. As there were only four of us, we did not use all 12 fishing lines. In the picture the line at the right was moving, which turned out to be a small fish that we returned to the water because one of us felt sorry for it.
I didn't much like pulling the hook out of a flapping, wiggly, bleeding, wounded little fish, especially if it had somehow gotten enbedded in its eye.
I guess I'm not much of a fisherperson. I was thinking instead, what a great little cabin this would be, or one like it, to have somewhere up in the woods, to get away to for spending time alone reading, writing and looking out at the winter sky and hills. But we didn't come here for that--we came here to catch fish.
This gentleman showed us how it's done and gave us hints about cleaning, cutting and cooking the poulamon.
I wondered what it would be like to stay on until the evening when I understand it gets a bit more lively -- singing together to foot-stompin' tunes in this or that cabin, walking in the crunchy snow with a companion, visiting neighboring cabins to say hello and see how many fish they'd caught.
This short video gives you some idea what it's like at night, although, except for the occasional ski-do, it seemed pretty quiet this particular night.
There are two hooks on each line, so sometimes you get a double catch. This happened several times for me and was always a bit of a surprise. You'd think if one fish got caught he'd have a split second maybe to turn and warn a fellow fish not to bite but apparently they don't communicate that way, or even appear to notice that hey, "Look what happened to him! I'd better not sample the goodies or it might happen to me, too!" It is particularly unnerving when you have to unhook one while the other one squirms and squiggles and looks at you with those little fish-eyes as if to say, How could you do this to us, have you any idea what it's like to have a sharp, jabby metal hook yanked in and out of your insides?
Emmy outside talking to one of the fish. Some people are naturals at fishing and Emmy is one of them. Not at all squeamish like yours truly. Each mad gasp for life, fish after fish after fish, flailing and flopping around in a bucket, until life is extinguished--all so someone could feast on him later, maybe with fried potatoes and a cold beer, and exclaim, "Yum. How delicious."
Separating the fun of the catch with the fact of the kill. I know I'm eventually going to have a nightmare about this.
The outdoors makes the perfect freezer. Everyone usually dumps their catch in a pile outside their cabin till it's time to go home. I don't have any more room in my freezer so what's left of my share is now outside sitting in a bank of snow by the shed.
Recette en francais: Le poisson frit est très facile à préparer. Roulez dans la farine les poissons et déposez-les dans une casserole avec du beurre ou de l'huile tout simplement (i.e., simply roll in flour and pan fry).
A clever local entrepreneur finds a way to get free advertising. --->
Being the biggest pile of fish there, of course everyone stops by to take a photo. You may call that number if you want to rent one of this fellow's cabins to do your fishing. His are the blue ones.
It doesn't necessarily mean you'd get more fish if you fished from this guy's cabins, but he certainly figured out a way to get his name and number out there!'
They even provide a wooden ruler in the cabin for un vrai measure!
And a pair of scissors to cut up the scrimp bait.
None of the fish we caught was very big--well, no, wait, there was One. But it may not have been a poulamon.
All in all we had an interesting afternoon and came home with about 80 fish. I gave half of my half away this morning to some neighbors, one of whom--84-year-old "Mado" up the street--clapped her hands in delight and grinned from ear to ear at seeing the little frozen buggers in the bag I left on her porch.
Apparently the way most people eat them is to cut off the head and tail, de-gut the middle part, coat with flour and pan-fry them (as per the recipe above). That was what I was told, at least, by three of my neighbors, one of whom took out his pocket knife and directed me to his kitchen sink so he could demonstrate. My father used to bring home rainbow trout from the creeks and streams in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. I wonder if he ever considered going ice fishing. Probably not; he preferred sitting in a rowboat or casting from a stone along the shore, in milder weather. I'm sure it would have interested him, though, to have been there with us yesterday.
If anyone is interested in checking out the ice fishing scene at Ste-Anne de la Perade in Quebec this winter, you'd better hurry up--they close down on February 15 and start taking all the cabins, restaurant and light poles all back on shore again before the ice melts and the river becomes a river again.
Here are some links (mostly in French) for the history of the poulamon and information on how to get to Ste. Anne de la Perade, what it costs, and who to call to reserve a cabin : here, here, here and here.