Their land is home to a who’s who of the world’s nastier creatures: the inland Taipan and eastern brown snakes and the funnel-web and redback spiders; its shorelines caressed by waters containing the Irukandji and Australian box jellyfish, as well as the blue-ridged octopus, stone fish and banded sea krait.
As a result, Robyn Visser’s scream – the second-shrillest in the cozy confines of Jimmy Riggin’ ice fishing hut number two – was understandable as she eased a trophy-sized mud puppy from the chilly waters early Friday afternoon a mile offshore from the Old Cut marina.
“What is that thing?” the born-and-bred Aussie demanded, maintaining a determined, if frightened two-handed death-grip on her pole, while extending her arms as far as humanly possible.
“Is it poisonous?” her fiancé, transplanted Kiwi Luke Thirwell interjected, his voice pitched one, maybe two octaves higher.
Reassured their combined family visit/snowboarding vacation in Canada would be threatened only aesthetically, not physically by the puppy’s primordial appearance, and with it gently eased back into its home waters, the couple returned to rhythmically jigging in search of more attractive, and tastier denizens of Long Point Bay.
Winter 2013’s early appearance allowed the travellers to try an iconic Canadian experience on Long Point’s ice-covered waters on the front end of a ‘Canadiana hat trick’ (London Knights game that evening and pond-hockey tourney Saturday) before jetting onward toward Banff, Lake Louise and Whistler’s snow-covered peaks. Beyond that, December’s deep freeze provides the welcome prospect of an extended season for area ice fishers and operators.
‘Riggin’, AKA Jim Carroll, actually first poked a fishing hole through the ice December 18th, 2013, but was getting going professionally this past weekend.
“That was more to prove a point to my wife,” he laughed.
Technically speaking, Friday was ‘moving day’ for Carroll, transporting his rental huts into position on the bay. But he did manage to set up one heated unit for a pair of early-season Aussies, whose previous idea of ‘winter’ had been a day dropping to a ‘chilly’ 15 degrees Celsius.
Port Stanley’s Greg Ford and St. Thomas fishing buddy Paul Campbell, considerably more familiar with the bite contained in the term ‘wind chill,’ were ‘kicking it old school’ in the open a couple of hundred metres away. Hand-bombing a non-cooperative power auger through the ice, they had gathered up a half-dozen keeper perch by early afternoon.
“First time this year,” reported Campbell, who seemed to be sitting over the hot hole.
“The company is good,” said Ford.
“And the coffee is cold,” Campbell added with a laugh.
Despite the undeniable chill on the fresh air, the pair was hanging tough, enjoying ‘getting out’ in an area whose winter and summer attributes both appreciate.
“A good way to spend the day,” said Ford, extolling the outdoors opportunities contained within the Great Lakes basin. “We are blessed where we live.”
As both a fisher and ice fishing operator, Carroll is encouraged by what looks like an ‘old school’ winter. Two years ago, there was no season at all he said, while last year’s lasted only seven days. “Which is like no season – it’s been tough.”
Fishers were roaming freely across the ice over the weekend said Carroll Monday evening, by which point he says there was up to 10 inches of quality ice on his part of the bay.
“There is always caution, it’s never 100% safe,” he said. “But it’s nice, clear, good hard ice, the best I’ve seen in years.”
All of Carroll’s 11 ‘Jimmy Riggin’ huts were booked Saturday, with good results through the weekend, huts averaging around 40 perch Sunday, and between 50 and 70 the day previous.
“There was lots of fish caught,” Carroll said. “They did really well on the weekend, Saturday better than Sunday, but both days really good.”
Carroll offers full-service huts (heaters and barbecues in each), portable shelter rental and bait and tackle out of the former Rotten Ronnie’s on Long Point’s main street, as well as an ice taxi service out of Old Cut.
His recommended technique is to combine one actively-jigged rattle spoon tipped with a minnow per hut, with static minnows on hooks through the other holes.
“Just jig it, it brings them in,” Carroll explained. “The spoon will bring them in and they will hit the minnows.”
The approach was also working on large members of the salamander family in hut #2, Visser establishing herself as ‘queen of the mud puppies’ by landing her second – to less fear, if no more affection.
“I really don’t like mud puppies - bloody, freaky fish!”
The Aussie inhabitants would absorb something of the hypnotic atmosphere inside an ice-fishing hut while reeling in enough perch by closing time for a sample of what arguably are Canada’s best-tasting freshwater fish. Warned about the spiny nature of a perch’s back fin, Thirwell was still happy enough to hang onto one for a photo op – once assured that ‘no, they weren’t poisonous either.’
Visser maintained international angling domination, perch and puppy, before heading shoreward via her second snowmobile ride, lifetime.
“You don’t know what to expect, seeing the huts, getting out there on the sleigh and yeah, it’s an odd feeling knowing you’re over water and hearing the ice creak and move,” she summed up. “But definitely a quintessential Canadian experience that we really enjoyed.”
“A good day with great company,” Thirwell concluded. “Cozy, cold and not for the faint-hearted, which all came together to make it extremely enjoyable.”