If you’ve seen the now famous sequence in the acclaimed movie Little Women, where Amy crashes through the ice while chasing her older sister Jo across a frozen lake, you may well approach the idea of ice fishing in the Alps with a great deal of trepidation. No one wants to end up swimming with the fishes. In sub-zero temperatures.
But in the right hands and the right company, ice fishing is perfectly safe and terrific fun. The only thing likely to be injured is your pride, as you go home with nothing more than a few tall tales about the one that got away.
We are in Melchsee-Frutt, a small but perfectly formed resort in the Lake Lucerne region of Switzerland. There we meet angling guru Gusti Bechtold who runs the only guided ice fishing business in the country.
Boasting the requisite grizzled mien of a salty old sea (or should that be lake?) dog, Gusti is an excellent teacher, gifted with enough patience to fill a huge reservoir. His nickname locally is “Mr Fish.” I think he may need to work on that.
At Gusti’s office in the centre of the resort, which is 2000 metres above sea level, he starts by demonstrating how we use a sort of giant screwdriver to drill a hole in the metre-thick ice of Lake Melchsee just outside the village.
Gusti proceeds to show us how to strap on a pair of snow shoes and walk in them – think John Wayne on snow. We waddle – it’s the only word for it – the 200 metres from Gusti’s office to Lake Melchsee.
It is a gorgeous sunny day, and as we round the corner and near the ice-bound lake, it glints spectacularly in front of the mighty 3200 metre high peak of Titlis, and we are reminded of the glory of the Alps – and how lucky we are to be here.
Once on the ice, we find a spot well away from our colleagues and start drilling, like eager but incompetent contestants on It’s a Knockout (topical TV reference, there).
Much perspiration later, we use a kind of ladle to clean the hole. Baiting the hook on my truncated fishing rod with a maggot, I think, “If I don’t catch any fish, at least that’s lunch sorted.” So far, so Fargo.
As Gusti gives us the anglers’ blessing – “Tight lines” – we then drop the bait through the hole and attach a small bell to the rod, which will ring if we get a bite. And wait. And wait.
At the end of several hours, we are still waiting. It seems as if I couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a rainbow trout or a Canadian char. I spend a long while in the fruitless pursuit of a fish in Frutt.
But it scarcely matters. There is something ineffably soothing about relaxing by a hole on a sun-lit, ice-bound lake taking in the joyous serenity of the surrounding mountains.
When you are ice fishing, you are forced to just stand still and watch the world go by. You are obliged to stop and smell the roses – or should that be edelweiss? – and which of us stressed-out urbanites would not benefit from that?
All of which chimes with the tranquility of Melchsee-Frutt. A small ski station with just 40km of pistes and a mere four hotels, it is blissfully car-free. We stay at the delightfully mellow Frutt Lodge & Spa. The resort can only be reached in winter by a fifteen-minute cable-car ride from Stoeckalp, 1000 metres lower down the mountain.
Melchsee-Frutt has none of the ghastly shouty-ness of more bling resorts with wall to wall apres ski bars full of braying hooray Henrys in red salopettes. It is as chilled as a frozen lake.
There are thousands of ski resorts in the Alps, and it is very hard for them to stand out from the crowd. So they are always looking for a unique selling point, and it seems to me that with ice-fishing at 2000 metres Melchsee-Frutt has found a pretty good one.
If it’s a stress-free, peaceful mountain-top activity you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.
The facts and figures:
Ice fishing in Melchsee-Frutt costs:
Adult (from 17 years) CHF 55.00. Teenagers (10 – 16 years) CHF 40.00
James was a guest of www.MySwitzerland.com and stayed at the Frutt Lodge & Spa, Tel: +41 (0)41 669 79 79 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Room rates start at 228 CHF per night (£179 or €213).