Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Breaking the ice was easy with my good friend, Pat

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I know it's not exactly ice-fishing season, but I've been thinking about ice fishing all the same.

I've been remembering the first time I tried my hand at ice fishing, which, in terms of things I enjoy doing, would rank somewhere between being stung in the eyeballs by angry wasps and having a routine colonoscopy, if you catch my drift.

It was more than 20 years ago and, to be clear, it wasn't my idea to go ice fishing. It was my buddy Pat's idea. Pat was the kind of guy who liked to do stuff and most of the time he liked to drag me along to do it with him.

Pat was my assignment editor and mentor at the Free Press and, if you imagine those old hard-bitten newspaper guys you used to see in black-and-white movies, you'll have an idea what he was like. He was also like an older brother, one who was determined to teach me how to do manly things in a reasonably manly manner.

I prepared for our ice-fishing excursion via the technique of staying up extremely late and consuming vast quantities of red wine, so when Pat picked me up at the crack of dawn in his "fabulous Thunderbird," it felt as if a heavy-metal rock band was pounding away in my swollen brain.

Pat was pleased that, despite my fragile condition, I hadn't tried to back out on him. After about 90 minutes in the car, we finally arrived at a remote boat landing, rented a gas-powered auger to drill through the ice, then Pat drove us directly onto the frozen river.

It was the first time I had ever been in a vehicle driving on an ice-covered river and to say I was a bit nervous is like saying Winnipeggers were "mildly pleased" at the return of the Jets this season. "So, you know what you're doing, right?" I asked Pat in a halting voice.

He gave me the kind of icy stare that could freeze the heart of a rookie reporter. "Are you kidding?" he snorted. "I'm an expert!"

Not long after, as we cruised along looking for the perfect spot, I saw a sign sticking awkwardly out of the river ice somewhere off in the distance.

"What does that sign say?" I asked Pat, politely.

"I don't know," my buddy grunted. "Let's go take a look."

So we did. Pat spun the wheel and we motored closer. "Can you read it now?" Pat demanded.

It took a moment for the words to register. "Y-e-s," I finally squeaked, "It says THIN ICE!"

Silently, Pat hit the gas and -- I would estimate this took under a second -- we literally flew back to the safety of the landing and parked on dry ground. Undeterred, Pat hauled the auger out of the trunk and we skittered a few feet out on the ice to start drilling a hole close to shore.

My feisty buddy fired up the gas motor and, with both of us holding on for dear life, we started drilling. Earlier, when we rented the auger, the cranky old guy in the bait shop had warned us: "Whatever you do, DON'T let it go all the way through the ice!"

So, naturally, with that advice in mind, we drilled all the way through the (bad word) ice, at which point the auger began spinning like a centrifuge, whipping Pat and myself around like astronauts in training until our hands got tired and we went flying off in random directions. We didn't catch anything, but I will never forget that day. It was the day Pat and I decided to quit ice fishing and take up golf.

We lost Pat last week. He was only 63. I will never forget him. I think my friend would be pleased to know I will never try ice fishing again in my life.

Because you need to be with an expert for stuff like that.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2012 A2

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