Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Ice Fishing Inuit Style
Traditionally many Inuit in Nunavik, the most northern part of Québec, depended on fish to get them through the winter. These families would head inland during the winter rather than go sealing along the coast. One of the reasons for this migration is the extremely high tidal range in Ungava Bay - one of the world's highest - made floe edge sealing a very dangerous occupation. The chances of the piece of ice you happened to be hunting on breaking off and floating out to sea was very high and your chances of returning to shore very low.
Fishing was actually done by 'spearing'. First one chopped a hole through the ice, seen here on a river where the ice wasn't too thick. Lake ice could easily grow up to several meters thick during the winter, so looking for a good stream with thinner ice was important! Once the hole was open and the ice chips were removed, one lay on the ice and dangled a little lure, often a bear's canine tooth or something else white and heavy, and bobbed it up and down to attract the fish. In one's other hand, a long three-pronged fishing spear was held with the point aimed towards the lure. When a fish came close to the lure, one made a quick jab and with some luck, the fish was quickly hauled out of the water and removed. In this somewhat damaged picture, two spears can be seen, with the nearest man already fishing.
In later years, gill nets were set via a series of holes, across a stream. Once set, they could be hauled out from either end and cleaned of fish. Then they were pulled back into the water from the hole at the far end and re-set for the next catch.
When I lived in Kangirsuk in the 1970's we ate fish every day, sometimes three meals a day! Yum!