By Camille Aubin
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Fishing enthusiasts practicing their sport on the ever-popular Whiteswan Lake will need to be extra careful while travelling on foot, as several huge holes in the ice have been discovered there, following an unfortunate accident that could have cost the life of a Canal Flats man.

André Champagne, a resident of Canal Flats since 1974, regularly goes ice fishing on Whiteswan Lake on his own. He is 78 years old, retired and still enjoys what the great outdoors has to offer.

On Tuesday, Feb. 23 in the afternoon, Champagne was alone on the lake, as he often is. That day, fishing was not at its best, according to Champagne. He drilled his fishing hole, put his line in the water and then waited a long time. Patience is essential when practicing fishing. But still, nothing happened.

Champagne packed his gear up to go a little further out on the lake. Everyone was gone at that point of the day, but Champagne still hadn’t reached his goal of catching a fish. So he walked closer to a spot where some other fishermen had been angling from an ice shelter earlier in the day. He was scanning the ground, searching for the fishing hole that the previous group had made, but Champagne didn’t see anything other the snow in all directions. Then, all of a sudden, Champagne found himself in the icy water of Whiteswan Lake. 

It took a lot of effort and energy before he could find a way to get out of the water. “I broke my fingernails scraping the ice,” explained Champagne. “I didn’t think I would get out of it. I kept telling myself it’s over, I am done, I’m gonna die in this hole.” After five minutes in the freezing cold water, he finally found a piece of ice that could hold his weight and then pull himself out of that giant hole. As fast as he could, Champagne took all of his fishing gear and ran to his truck not too far from where he fell in the water, turned on the engine, and heated the car full blast to warm himself up. “If it weren’t for that piece of ice, I probably wouldn’t be here telling you the story today.”

As luck has it Champagne is an active man. “I’m still fit for my age. If it had been another person or even a child, he probably wouldn’t have made it out of the water,” said Champagne, adding he stays in shape by still bucking his own wood, by going for daily walks, as well as fishing at least three times a week.

The next day, Champagne realized how lucky he was to be alive. He returned to the scene to see if there were any other unmarked holes there. He found three holes at the accident’s location and further on, at kilometre 27 of the road that runs alongside the lake, he found five other holes.

Apart from the less-than-pleasant memories of the terrifying ordeal, Champagne’s other ‘souvenirs’ of his frigid dip include some sore ribs and shoulders, injuries he sustained during his frantic efforts to get out of the water along with scratches up and down his body.

These large holes might have be drilled for fish traps which aren’t legal, according to Champagne. What is alarming, in addition to potentially illegal practice, is that these giant holes are not marked with a bright flag or even a branch in order to make their presence known. When night falls, and the temperature cools down, a thin layer of ice forms over the hole; add a little snow that covers it and here’s a well-hidden trap ready to catch the unaware.

Champagne is advising others to practice safe fishing and make it clear when you create a hole in the ice. Keep your children close by, and carry a knife to help you get out of the water when travelling on a frozen lake. For your safety and the safety of others, think twice before leaving a wide-open hole in the ice.