This post is another in my series about Cambridge Bay, but unlike most of the other posts which were originally pages on the Grant Wilson’s Slice of Life website I maintained back then, this post is written from pure, and perhaps faulty, memory in 2020. That’s some 22 years after the actual incident so there is a distinct lack of detail and large helping of “Maybe it was like this or that, don’t quite remember”. Despite all that, I did want to tell the story because the whole experience was, just as the title says, anticlimactic.
Late during my stay in Cambridge Bay, I was part of what turned out to be a memorably odd chartered ice-fishing trip. My memory is very hazy about most of the particulars of the trip, including about exactly when it took place, but it certainly during the spring of 1998.
Ice-fishing in spring? You might be thinking that sounds less than safe. But in the arctic spring doesn’t mean a massive melt; it just means more light, almost 24 hours of it for a while. Yes it’s the beginning of a long slow melt that may finish sometime in late July or early August. But in the months of spring everything that was ridiculously cold and frozen during the winter is now just merely really frozen.
This ice-fishing excursion involved a large group of people piling onto a chartered plane with the aim of flying out of town, landing on a frozen lake, and augering some ice-fishing holes to do some fishing.
Now, I don’t think I’ve ever ice-fished in my life and apologies to all you ice-fishing fans, the thought of it has me ranking it just above watching paint dry.
So for me it couldn’t have been the lure of ice-fishing that got me on that plane. No, I’m 100% sure the draw was the chance of being part of an excursion out of town – by plane or by any other means possible. Obviously many others felt the same. I’d say there were about 25 people all told.
I can’t quite remember if we paid for the excursion or if it was a free promotional thing for the airline charter company. Now that I think of it, maybe the bunch of us were just oblivious ballast for the pilots to get some practice ski landings in on a frozen arctic lake.
In any case, we took off and someone must have had an idea where to go because we flew for a while before descending to land on a frozen lake.
We made a number of passes at the landing spot, I’m thinking three or more. Having seen TV shows about bush piloting since then, I know now that it’s quite normal to scout out the landing spot first and even attempt and abort landings in arctic conditions. But at that time, having only flown on commercial flights in the south where there are paved runways, the multiple attempts thing wasn’t part of my experience. I distinctly remember my stress level increasing at each attempt. But what can you do? You’re a captive sardine who is still euphoric from having the opportunity to escape the confines of town for a few hours.
But we landed safely and piled out of the plane. I remember the gender roles kicking in without anyone saying anything: a tent was set up quickly and the women-folk started on making food, including the heating up the chilli that someone had made.
The men-folk, a couple of them schlepping an ice auger, made their way out a bit onto a spot on the ice to drill holes to begin ice-fishing. I was part of that group.
And one-by-one the men-folk took turns yanking on the pull cord to get the ice auger motor started.
And we yanked on the cord. And the motor did nothing.
We yanked on the cord, and the motor did nothing.
We yanked on the cord, and the motor…
We yanked on the cord.
…gave up, hauled the stupid thing back to the tent and everyone just ate chilli. And I remember it being really good.
We no doubt all agreed that we didn’t want fish anyway and besides ice-fishing is stupid and boring.
That’s my very vague recollection of the group ice-fishing trip. It’s more than a little anti-climatic I know, but that’s the way reality goes sometimes. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
TIm S. and I did take some time to walk a ways to do some hero shots of each other with the plane in the background. Here they are even though the quality of them is sub, sub par.
And I’d like to think that on the flight back someone opened a hatch and dropped that ice auger out onto the frozen tundra below.
Where it belonged.