Last Saturday morning, my phone rings and there was a very excited voice on the other end. It was Andy, a guy I know whose family gives new meaning to words "tough" and "outdoorsman." You name it, he does it-- hunting, fishing, water sports, whatever. Now that I think about it, the "tough" part is more for his sister, Jen, who does all that and could probably whip all the men she knows. She's a former CMU track and field athlete who did the shotput and hammer throw, and at one time could bench press more than all but four players on the CMU football team. You can also lose the Butch image in your head-- she's a long-haired beauty with big dark eyes and married to an East Lansing Firefighter. She could whip him too.
Anywho, Andy wanted to know if I wanted to go spearfishing. You can't plan it much in advance, hence the urgency in Andy's voice. I said no, but then thought about how much fun I had last year and called him back. It starts with a stop at his dad's farm to grab the tools-- a chainsaw, pounders, an axe, and of course the spears. The spears have a long wooden handle like a shovel, but at the end it splits into about 5 metal, sharpened prongs in the shape of a "u."
Then, it's on to the river. Usually, it's a bit of a hike to where they want to start. You need at least 6 people to go spearing-- four guys to man the hole, and two more to pound the ice. I should say people since Jen was there also. First, you find your spot and trace out a rectangle probably 15 feet by 5 feet. One guy starts cutting one side with the saw and the others take turns notching the other with the axe. Once the chainsaw has gone all the way around, it's up to everyone to break the ice up and slide the pieces under the existing ice. You clean off the rest of the little ice pieces and you have yourself a hole. Now you need some fish. Two guys walk a few hundred yards down the river with the metal pounders and then start back toward the hole making a heckuva racket. Using the metal, clanky pounders on the ice and yelling, the idea is to drive the carp, bass, suckers or pike toward the hole. On this day, we had 6 people manning the hole. Still, eyes fixed on the dark cold water waiting to catch a glimpse of a fish moving through. Sometimes they move through slowly or even stop and others zip through before you can move your spear. A guy got one on the very first hole and it turned out to be the only one of the day. I saw one myself later, but missed it as it moved through.
We looked much cooler than this guy.
The real excitement on the day for me was falling through the ice a couple times. Not all the way through, but when I was pounding I went in over a soft spot up to both knees. It's not a big deal when you're wearing long rubber boots and canvas snow pants. I was wearing neither. For some reason I didn't bother borrowing some rubbers because I figured the river would be so frozen it wouldn't matter if I had on my normal winter boots and snow pants. It happened on the first hole, too. After, a couple minutes though, my feet were numb. I slipped in slightly two more times and another guy went in up to his thighs. When I got home and jumped in the shower my feet turned a little purple as they thawed out.
Sunday, I got a text from Jen with a picture of a truckload of fish. They went out again and got a whole lot more. Unfortunately, I had to work the Super Bowl. There's just something so primitive about spearfishing that makes it fun. I almost feel like a frontiersman trying to catch his dinner. Add in the camaraderie, and it's a great way to spend a near-zero day outside.