There are many responses to the quip, “when life gives you lemons, …” but the idea is that you make the best of it and use it to your advantage. Minnesotans take that to heart and make the most of winter snow and cold. St. Paul hosts a winter carnival to celebrate it, complete with ice sculptures, snow carving, “crashed ice” racing, and in really cold years, ice castles whose blocks are extracted from the local lakes.
But the iconic image of winter in Minnesota has to be the ice fisherman, who drive their vehicles far out onto the frozen lakes, set up their tents, use motor-driven augers to drill their fishing holes, and turn on the sonar to locate the fish.
Ice fishing gear is so sophisticated that a fisherman can be as successful finding the fish in winter as in summer. Although the fish are active, their metabolism is far slower in the winter, when their body temperature is the same as the almost freezing water, than it was in summer when the water was probably 20 C (68 F). Slower metabolism means less need for food, and so the ice fisherman has to find the most tempting lures (most likely minnows).
Slower metabolism in the winter is probably a good thing. Although cold water can hold more oxygen, there are an abundance of lake organisms using it over the course of the winter, especially near the lake bottom. And with the thick, impermeable ice covering the lake, there isn’t any way to purge the system and renew the oxygen levels. So, fish are stuck with what we might consider suffocating conditions. Imagine the air quality after being trapped in a crowded elevator for several hours, and you can sympathize with the plight of the bottom-dwelling lake fish.
Back to the lemons…if snow, ice, and intense cold are the lemons of the Minnesota winter, I’m happy to partake in the festivities that celebrate it. Hopefully I can get some photos of the famous “crashed ice” racing this weekend.
Video of the crazy racers: