Essential weapon in the ice age

fishing lines
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THREE weeks, and still no sign of water. I don't know about the lakes and rivers elsewhere, but in East Anglia, the ice is still as thick as the sandwiches my dad made for my lunch (one loaf four slices). Everywhere looks unfishable. Yet there is a dedicated band who do not let something as minor as a foot or two of ice stop them - and I'm not talking about proper ice-fishing either.

In Finland and other parts of the world where ice is inevitable, you can buy fishing augurs - or drills - in general-purpose shops. These head- high contraptions are so sharp that they are sold with a shield to keep the blades away from careless hands. They penetrate ice as quickly as an ordinary drill goes through wood, and cut a six-inch hole through 3ft of ice in less than a minute.

You can even buy a battery-powered version, which isn't as daft as it sounds. Ice-fishermen never stay in one spot long unless the fish are there. Drill a hole, fish for a couple of minutes and move on is the secret. But the effort of drilling through 3ft of ice soon starts to tell. I went to Finland two years ago to try the sport, and after an hour I was so exhausted that my augur got stuck 18 inches down. I have to confess that I callowly fished holes that others had drilled for the rest of the day.The other essential piece of ice-fishing tackle is a little scoop, to remove the mini-icebergs that start to form.

In Finland, Alaska, Canada, Lapland, Sweden and even parts of the United States, ice-fishing is a highly skilled art with specialist tackle and even a world championship. Over here, it is slightly less subtle.

The main perpetrators are competition anglers, whose craving to fish outweighs things like common sense, comfort and the beauty of the countryside. Because nobody is yet importing augurs, British anglers have to resort to slightly cruder methods. The standard implement is a 7lb weight. But anglers soon discovered that on thick ice, even this just skidded across the surface. Heavier measures were needed and in came the 14lb weight, rapidly supplemented with a length of chain. "When it's really hard, you may need to chuck this out seven or eight times to crack the ice," one lunatic told me. So (you've guessed it) along came the 28lb weight.

In most cases, this is pretty effective but the solution also becomes a problem. The paraphernalia that anglers carry weighs so much that it would mean excess payment on an airline. Serious anglers (and we're talking here about the ones who go fishing even when the water is frozen deeper than a cryogenics factory) carry as much as 80lb. Add another 30lb and the prospect of walking a mile or so (quite common in competitions) becomes less appealing.

The result has been the development of whackier ways to break the ice. Last weekend, I watched in amazement as people used angle grinders, chainsaws and even a huge iron knobkerry. Where will it all end?

You would think that any fish would bury itself several feet in the mud after such a hullabaloo over its head. But here's a funny thing. The noise and activity actually stimulates the fish into feeding, probably because light and oxygen is released into the water. When a canal is partly frozen, you catch more fish by breaking a hole in the ice than fishing in the unfrozen areas. That's if you're daft enough to do it in the first place.