Words & Photos by Sam Egan
When our friends from far off Sydney, Australia, stopped in town for a few days during their trans-continental travels, it wasn’t hard to think of a more uniquely Canadian experience to offer them than ice fishing. After a day of hard-earned turns in Sun Peaks, a low impact activity was required. Campbell from the recently minted Elevated Fishing Adventures picked us up bright and early for a day on one of the local lakes.
Our guide is what you might call a morning person, displaying a surely practiced patience as we slowly gathered our various necessities for the day, before the 15 minute drive to Heffley Lake. Caffeinated by the time we reached the turnoff to the bay we’d be fishing, a quiet dirt road led us through the still winter forest to the trailhead.
A frozen creek leads into one of the lake’s more scenic bays, featuring commanding views of rocky Embleton Mountain where an old fishing resort once operated. Sensing our trepidation walking on the ice, our guide assured us the frozen lake would have no trouble supporting his half ton pickup.
Temperatures were low and the morning sun had yet to make it very high over the adjacent treetops. We made quick work of plotting out our digs for the morning ahead; drilling holes in a circle for each of us with a gas-powered auger and popping up a big red dome for shelter. As we got comfortable in the hut, and our lines were fitted with different lures and various homemade bait concoctions, our Aussie visitors learned something we had long known about our guide - this man’s one heck of a story teller.
As the sun rose higher in the sky and the shadows slowly crept back towards our shelter, Campbell told us that we’d be able to cover the windows and the lake would light up like an aquarium, to see the fish swimming around below. Not a few minutes later the sun had shifted far enough and as we sealed up the hut, a vibrant green shone through each of our holes like a window into another dimension.
No one acknowledged it at first, we simply stared into the lake and observed this world below the ice going about its business, as though oblivious to the terrestrial winter all around. Even after the initial stun of the illumination tapered and we went through the motions of fishing, there remained an unmistakable air of mystery in the hut, so long as the windows were sealed.
We had numerous customers for our offerings that day and as we watched them circle and carefully nibble the bait, our guide pulled up a Rainbow Trout, and asked if we wanted to keep it or toss it back. We opted to keep it for dinner, and he promised to clean whatever we brought home. The sun was high and bright and we no longer needed the propane heater, so we stepped out onto the open lake to try another spot.
Closer to shore our escort cleaned out a few previously drilled holes and while inspecting the depth, we quizzed him about his favourite way to prepare the local delicacy he’d just caught.
“Fish tacos,” he said, “or my Grandma’s recipe of battering them with crunched up Miss Vickey’s salt and vinegar chips.” Yup, that one.
Not much else bit for the rest of the morning, but we’d seen what lay below and fished away while being regaled with tales of some of our guide’s more notable wildlife encounters. Bird of prey were the most observable specimens where we were fishing – Hawks, Osprey, Falcons, and Eagles – but stories of close calls with various predators kept us laughing, if not looking over our shoulders periodically.
Around noon we packed up camp and our guide dropped us at our doorstep with the day’s catch, cleaned and ready for the frying pan. The Sydneyites continued east, bound next for the Rockies, with a great story to add to their travels.