Snowstorm strands ice fisherman 7 km from shores of Lake Winnipeg

Lake Winnipeg

Two ice fisherman from Manitoba are lucky to be alive after spending 26 hours stranded on Lake Winnipeg.

It’s a harrowing story that serves as an excellent reminder to always check the weather forecast before heading out—especially in winter.

When Selkirk resident Joey Halldorsson and his brother-in-law Ron Berens arrived at Lake Winnipeg early Sunday morning, the weather was clear. But when that changed two hours later, the men were already seven kilometres offshore and weren’t able to see more than 15 feet in front of them.

“Normally we check the weather and do it right,” Halldorsson told CBC News. “If it’s going to blow on that lake, you stay off of it, but we just for some reason didn’t check. We just went,” he said.

They decided to wait the storm out, but the snow didn’t stop all day. When it finally started to let up around 5 p.m., they decided to pack up and drive out. But by this time, they were facing metre-high snowdrifts.

“We got about 50 feet away [from the shack] and got stuck. Then we dug it out. We got another 10 feet and got stuck,” he said.

That’s when they decided to fight their way back to the shack and get into “survival mode,” Halldorsson said. They fried the fish they’d caught that morning with a makeshift stove they built from a pan, their propane heater, and a bucket, and they drank melted snow.

At around 8 p.m., when the storm settled, they attempted to drive away again.

“Another bad decision,” according to Halldorsson.

They got stuck in snowdrifts again, but this time, they couldn’t get the truck out. The shack was only 100 feet away, but they were blocked in by a wall of snow and forced to spend the night in their vehicle.

“You’re hearing the ice crack underneath you, and you’re like ‘Oh my God,'” Halldorsson told CBC. “That ice is known to open and close. It wasn’t fun.”

Luckily, Berens’ phone still had a charge and they were able to get in touch with Halldorsson’s sister, who then contacted the coast guard and Selkirk RCMP.

Search and rescue were called, but after assessing the situation, the RCMP decided it was best to wait out the storm. Halldorsson agreed with their decision, as it would have put the first responders in jeopardy. “You’re looking for a needle in a haystack, especially when you can only see 20 to 30 feet in front of you,” he said.

The RCMP continued to check up on the men throughout the night. They also called St. Andrews towing.

The men sent their GPS coordinates to the tow truck driver, who headed out early the next morning in a track truck. He found the men inside their vehicle, which was blocked by a snowdrift that nearly reached the hood.

It turned out to be a $700 tow, though Halldorsson said he was willing to pay a lot more for someone to get him off that lake.

He now admits that it would have been smarter to stay in the shack until the propane heater ran out, waiting until morning to drive. But as the saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20.

As for their next ice fishing trip? You can bet they’ll be checking the weather before heading out. They’re also planning to move their shack closer to shore.