Winter, 2012 was a tough one around the Richardson household.
There wasn’t enough ice for Bud to get out fishing – which just maybe meant there was a little to much Bud around their Selkirk residence for his wife of 63 years, Joan.
“She says when I come fishing, it’s quiet for her,” Bud laughed Friday afternoon, ensconced solo in a cozy two-man hut offshore east of St. Williams.
Born in 1929, Richardson has fished since he was eight or 10, and for the majority of the past 25 years, made ice fishing a winter staple.
“I come every day,” said the 83-year-old retired driving instructor, retaining a gentle caress on his line, even while making conversational eye contact.
The way Richardson figures things, men have three main passions.
“The first is what the dogs fight over,” he said with a conspiratorial smile.
The second, says Richardson, is drinking.
“I don’t do that any more.”
And the third, perhaps split equally, is hunting and fishing, twin passions fully understood by his forgiving bride.
“I think I’d rather hunt and fish than do anything else,” says Richardson, easing his spoon out of the water, and re-baiting it. “You see what happened when I wasn’t paying attention?”
Joan used to accompany Bud more often while fishing, but arthritis and hip operations have curtailed her participation. He finds it harder to get around himself, but finds his way out to a hut as often as possible.
“I haven’t got a bad word about it, it’s just fantastic. And one of the biggest things is, the people you deal with.
“Most of ‘em are second to none.”
As mentioned, the winter of 2012 was a tough one for Richardson.
“It was hard to walk on the ice,” he said of a year in which sufficient ice for anglers never did form. Richardson is thrilled to be back out fishing this year, although he says wild fluctuations in temperatures haven’t been ideal.
“It’s been darn touchy for the fishing,” he said. “One day you’re freezing your butt off and the next day it’s raining.”
Joan joins in on monthly perch dinners, ‘battered and deep fried,’ to perfection. Bud had the start for a fish-based feast Friday, a half-dozen keepers in a pail. While fishing, Richardson maintains intimate contact with his bait, propping his pole against the wall, and running the line through his fingers.
“There’s a little fella,” he said, drawing a tiny perch up toward the surface. “He’s just a little fella, but maybe his daddy’s behind him.”
Richardson doesn’t get bored, figuring fishing is prime opportunity for contemplation.
“It gives you time to think.”
If he has a tip, it’s to hang tough through ice fishing’s quiet times.
“Don’t give up, a lot of people will too quick. You’ve got to be watching your line like a hawk or they’ll come in and grab your minnow and be gone.”
Roughly 200 metres away in a four-man hut, two anglers from the opposite end of the experience spectrum were having similar success to Richardson – and equally as much fun.
“I love it, it’s cool, I’d do it all day long, every day,” said Shawn Cook of St. Williams, drawn out for the first time in his life after seeing huts on the bay earlier in the week.
His fishing partner Kory Gee had twice as much experience, one previous trip years ago with his dad Kevin and grandpa Gee.
On that memorable occasion, Kory and company reeled in 72 perch. That standard was numerically well advanced from Friday’s total, but Gee had no complaints.
“It’s still fun, we’re having fun, I know I am.”
“Bring some food, some pop to drink and you’re good to go,” Cook added.
Impressed by how clear the water is, Cook found the experience of staring down through the ice in search of perch or passing pike in between ‘chilling and relaxing,’ to be ‘mesmerizing.’
“An excellent day, well worth it.”
Their experience and Richardson’s mirrored that of Hut #20, where four anglers brought in around a dozen or 15 perch, including seven solid keepers.
“Real nice fish,” said Jim Granger of Granger’s Ice Fishing. “Just not a whole pile of them.”
The 2013 ice-fishing season has been a tough, and comparatively short one for operators. Rather than running an ice-fishing operation, Granger agreed the business should have instead been filming a reality TV show.
“(Employee) Darren’s (Propper) been saying that for years,” he laughed. “They’d get some good footage, that’s for sure. There are some tough decisions to make and no easy days, that’s for sure.
“It’s aging me before my time, there’s nothing easy about it, every day is an experience – and as you can see, never a dull moment.”
Coming on the heels of a complete shutout in 2012, operators had huts out on the ice for a one-day experience a couple of Sundays prior, before making a return just under two weeks ago.
Quality over quantity has been the story thus far through 2013. A dozen keeper perch is a ‘big day’ says Granger, with this year’s notable exception a 47-fish haul by Andy Winn and his wife Ingrid – or more accurately, Ingrid and her husband Andy.
“She catches most of the fish,” laughed Granger.
“She’s the best fisherperson on the bay,” interjected Edna McIntyre, who takes care of bookings inside the Granger business office. “She outfishes her husband and just about every other person you see.”
Perch fishing has picked up a bit since it started, said Granger.
“Things are looking up.”
Propper prefers a Williams Whitefish Junior Jig for perch, snipping the side hooks off. Beyond that, he likes silver, or silver with green in terms of colour.
“But mostly silver, your chrome lures.”
It’s crucial to hook minnows through their silver lateral line for bait longevity, Propper added, given the lack of vitals in that area.
“You want to keep your minnow alive out here,” he said. “Because if you’re not jigging, they are.
“If they become inactive, take them off and put on a new, live minnow.”
Propper suggests working the full range of water as some perch sit on the bottom and others come in suspended. He hangs his pole on a hook in the hut and hand-jigs from the bottom of the hole to the bottom of the lake. Bring one’s minnow to the top, he says, work it down and let it sit for a period of seconds before repeating in a sporadic action.
“Don’t let it just sit, jig it.”
The other angler target at Long Point is pike, showing up in stronger numbers during the past week, gathering in the shallower waters of the bay says Granger, before heading upcreek.
“They’ll fill up here next week,” he predicted Friday. “Once they start, they’ll come.”
Granger considers pike ‘an awesome eating fish,’ for those who know how to clean them.
“I think they’re better than perch out of this cold water.”
He recommends ‘big, flashy spoons,’ for pike, tipped with a minnow, a big minnow if possible.
“Jig ‘em until they get there and then sit it tight and they’ll usually inhale it.”
Whether one is in search of perch, pike or the consummate Canadian experience offered by ice fishing, Granger suggests – given the 2013 that has been – waiting for ‘late ice’ may not be the best option.
“Might not be here for long,” he concluded Friday. “If you’re going to come, better do it now.”