Harvesting fish from beneath the frozen lakes and rivers of the Arctic/sub-arctic regions was a critical part of the subsistence lifestyle for most north-country native Americans. There were typically three methods for harvesting fish: traps/nets, spearing from “dark house”- like tents or simply kneeling down beside a hole and dropping a hand line down through the ice. Let’s look at the last method as it has applications today in an emergency situation due to its effectiveness and simplicity.
The native ice fishing “rod and reel” set up consisted of either two sticks or a deeply-arched handle (wood, antler) called a niksik. Both utilized a line attached to the end of one of the sticks or end point on the niksik to which a lure or barbless hook was attached. Both methods let the angler wind string up/down by simply rocking his/her wrist back and forth which allowed the line to feed to/from its windings as the sticks/handle tip moved from side to side.
With the two-stick method, the line is attached to the end of the first stick, and wound around both sticks until all the line was coiled onto the ends of the two sticks. Once baited, the hook is lowered down into the water by simply unwinding the line from one stick to the other until the desired depth was attained.
Upon hooking a fish, the angler used the free stick to catch the line in the water and pull it sideways, parallel to the other stick. The process was reversed and the hook line stick was used to gather the line now hanging from the other stick and pull it back, raising the line that much further again. The back-and-forth process was repeated until the angler could haul the line and fish up and beyond the hole and then shake off the catch onto the frozen lake/river surface.
Another great advantage of this simple tool is that you can operate it with your gloved or mittened hand. With the added advantage of not having a barb on the hook, a deft ice angler could raise or lower the bait, hook a fish, bring it up the hole, out onto the ice and shake off the catch – all without removing a glove or switching hands for any reason.
While re-baiting the hook would probably require a bare handed effort, once the bait was in place, the hands could be covered again and fishing could commence – right along through to the “catching” part of the process.
As we approach the season where we can start enjoying a comfortable day out on the water, it’s a good time to refresh ones self on the hazard of drowning. What to look for might be quite different from what you expect to see, especially as depicted in so many Hollywood movies.
The process of drowning is typically quiet and subdued. No arms waving frantically overhead or body thrashing wildly, no screaming or yelling. A drowning victim typically cannot scream or yell as their body is in survival mode. They will be gasping for air, their mouths right at the surface and their heads possibly tilted way back. Their arms will be pushing down onto the water for support.
Don’t let loud, boisterous splashing detract you from the lone, passive, immobile swimmer – she/he might be your drowning victim.
Like most dangers, the best safeguards against drowning is prevention – with barriers to control access to water (fences around pools, restricted swimming areas, etc.) and to have rescue devices (life ring buoys and rope) handy. Always make wearing a life jacket/PFD an on-water requirement, too.
If you need to personally rescue someone, try to get some form of floatation (seat
cushions, even a small, empty ice cooler) to them. Keep it between you and the victim as they will attempt to crawl up anything that’s near. Professionals are trained to deal with clinging victims, but as a novice rescuer, you could be pulled under as they try to climb up on top of you.
Another good way to help create a safe swimming environment, especially with kids, is to have a buddy system. Have kids pair up, count off in two’s and assign them that number. Use a whistle to announce a “Buddy Check” drill and have each kid yell out their numbers. It helps them watch out for each other.