While many of us agonize over a spring that refuses to arrive, a small few in our community are thankful for the late arrival of the big thaw. Some of those in this minority are the commercial fishers who every winter take to the frozen lakes that are covered with ice that is more than a metre thick. And even though their fish quota license usually expires on the last day of March, an early spring can push fishers off the lake long before then.
Not this year. The remaining snow and cooler temperatures were a welcome sight on this season’s last days of fishing, which fell on the Easter long weekend. The near perfect conditions for ice fishing prompted one local fisher and his family and friends to bring in the nets for the final time by celebrating with an old-fashioned fish fry in the middle of Lake Winnipeg at the southwest basin of the Lake.
Barry Matkowski has been commercial fishing on various lakes in Manitoba for several years. In the summer and fall he’s up north of the 53rd parallel fishing the lakes of northern Manitoba. In the winter and spring, he’s working in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg just off shore from his home in Matlock.
Unlike the general public who go ice fishing and sit in a shack with fishing poles plunked into a hole in the ice, Matkowski is here to make a living and to haul in as big a catch as this lake will offer him.
Commercial ice fishing is done by setting a number of nets underneath the ice. Each net is stretched between two holes that are drilled in the ice with an auger. Each pair of holes are about 50 metres apart and are drilled in pairs across a large area of the lake. The fish simply swim into the nets and are not able to swim out.
Once the nets sit for a day or two, they are pulled up from under the ice, teeming with fish. Anywhere from 60 to 90 fish per net are pulled out from the frigid waters. Then the fish are unhooked from the nets, thrown into containers and are taken to be filleted. The point of filleting the fish is to cut off parts of the fish you don’t want, so you are left with the parts you want to eat.
This particular afternoon was special because some of the fish were filleted, battered and deep fried right there on the lake for all to enjoy. While the fish was being prepared, many of the kids were fascinated watching the nets being pulled in.
The fish was served, eaten and enjoyed by all. What an amazing feast it was, and what a great way to wrap up the fishing season.
All photos by Noah Erenberg.