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This article was published 3/1/2010 (4517 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SELKIRK -- While most people hide from the cold and try to stay warm, there is a strange breed of Manitobans whose enthusiasm rises as the temperature drops.
When people ask, "Cold enough for you?" they typically answer, "Not yet." They want water to freeze as hard as pavement.
Parka-clad examples of these winter contrarians can be found huddled in a tiny winter village made up of dozens of ice shacks on the frozen Red River at Selkirk. The ice here is 13 inches thick, Dave Simpson says approvingly.
Simpson, 40, started ice fishing with his dad when he was 11 and he's passed on his love of the sport to the next generation. He's been ice fishing with his own boys, Kieran, 5, and Riley, 3, for the last three years.
Simpson hasn't caught a fish so far this year but, with half a dozen holes drilled into the ice, he says that it's only a matter of time before he gets a bite.
"Walleye swim in schools, so if you get on them you can catch quite a few," he said from his heated ice shanty.
Denis Boychuck, 15, who fishes with Simpson and his boys, said that catching "the big one" is not the reason that he braves the cold.
"I just come out for the fun of it," he said, noting that even the most frigid temperatures don't stop him from putting on his snowsuit and dropping his jig into the frigid water.
Steve Wintemute, fishing ambassador for Travel Manitoba and publisher of Hooked Magazine, said that ice should be at least four inches thick before people venture out for the season.
"My advice to people: Never be the first one on the ice," he said. "I always make sure that other people have been out there first."
Wintemute cautions people who drive their vehicles onto a frozen body of water to first know the ice conditions.
"The ice has to be 12 inches [thick] minimum" to hold vehicles, he said. "If people are going to drive on the ice they should drive with their windows rolled down and their seatbelts off, so that if they do fall through they are able to get out of their vehicle."
Brian Smiley, media relations co-ordinator for Manitoba Public Insurance, said MPI deals with between six to 12 submerged vehicles a year, typically in early winter and early spring. He said vehicles that become submerged are automatically written off. If the water conditions are dangerous, he said, the vehicle will remain submerged for months.
This year, however, according to Wintemute, the ice conditions are among the best he has seen on Manitoba lakes in the last five years. The cold weather and lack of snow have made this ice-fishing season particularly good.
Brent Kruger, "the fishin' magician" from Lake of the Woods, agrees.
Kruger, who owns an ice-fishing guide service at Lake of the Woods, two hours east of Winnipeg, said there is no set temperature that kicks off ice-fishing season.
Snow puts weight on the ice, making it heavier and more susceptible to breaking, he said. Fishers need to test the ice progressively every 100 feet or so to ensure it's safe. Ice thickness depends on several factors, including the current underneath the frozen surface. If the current is strong, the ice will be thinner.
For Ron Hummelt, Dave Burdette and Randy Papuschuk, who set up their little shack at Selkirk three weeks ago, the ice is in pristine condition at 13 inches thick.
Hummelt, 50, principal at East Selkirk Middle School, said he and his friends don't necessarily depend on eating fresh-caught fish while they're fishing.
"You've got to bring food along if you're not catching anything," he said, cooking up some deer sausage over the fire in his wood-burning stove.
Hummelt said a day of ice fishing is more about getting out with friends and having a good time than it is about catching fish.
There's a warming sense of camaraderie around the little ice-fishing village on the Red, he said, noting his fishing buddies come and go throughout the day.
"Everybody who has helped us with the shack has a key," he said. "It started with the three of us, but over time we've adopted quite a few people."
Manitoba angling licences are valid from May 1 through April 30. Anybody interested in learning more can visit www.manitobafisheries.com.
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley Cook is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press and manages the paper's Reader Bridge project, which seeks to expand coverage of underserved communities.