“Voulez-vous une brimbale?”
My 8-year old daughter and I have nearly completed the registration process at Village Nordik, a winter-only adventure site located in Québec City’s Bassin Louise, just behind the popular Marche du Vieux Port, and I am feeling pleased at having spoken mostly french throughout. But this word stumps me.
Une brimbale, I am shortly to discover, is a crude type of fishing rod. Easy to bait, and stick into the snow, it is offered as an alternative to a traditional rod, and suits us perfectly. The young man at the desk puts two brimbales into a large white pail and adds two little bags of bait, a gigantic metal slotted spoon and one small, green folding stool. One of us will sit on the bucket.
About 10 minutes’ walk from the old city, Bassin Louise is a working marina for small yachts and pleasure craft. In the winter, with all the boats gone, each frozen mooring bay is transformed into an ice-fishing site. According to local paper, Le Soleil, over 35,000 visitors came to fish at the site in 2016.
On the basin, one has the the feeling of being totally separated from the rest of the city, despite the fact that on every horizon, you can see the icons of industrial Québec: factory smokestacks, the green copper roof of the Gare du Palais, and in the near distance, a distinctive row of grain elevators. It’s slightly surreal and very peaceful.
As instructed, we located a couple of employees wearing high-visibilty vests. One is carrying what looks like a giant whipper-snipper. The friendly teenager leads us to a suitable site where there are some fishing holes already pre-drilled.
Putting my basic french to the test, I plead that we would love to observe him actually making the hole with this fantastic machine. He happily complies, taking great pleasure in drilling the hole, a process that ends with a grand, satisfying upward splash of water.
Once two holes are drilled, we scoop the excess ice from them (that’s what the slotted spoon is for) and set up. My daughter becomes very excited, peering into the water. She can’t wait to begin.
Our bait comes in two tiny plastic bags – six little fish each. I call them sardines but I don’t think they are. Minnows maybe? In any case, it is my job to pierce them on the hook while my daughter squirms. I reckon I will get more bang for my buck if I bait two at a time.
Then, we lower the bait into the hole. We sit. And we wait.
I suppose we are “fishing”, but our activity is better described as “chilling out”: chatting, taking photos and meeting people, including one group of 20 friends and neighbours who have rented one of the inflatable heated igloos and, we are inspired to note, have already caught four small fish, placed like little silver trophies outside their shelter.
Inspiration turns to horror when my daughter notices that one of the fish is still flapping its tail. I note that there is no billy club in in our pail, and issue a short silent prayer that we don’t catch anything. What on earth would we do with a live fish (or even a dead fish) on our last day of vacation?
My question is answered later when I discover that there is a restaurant inside the market which will prepare and cook your catch! For only $7.00, La Cuisine du Marché will prepare your trout, served with quinoa and wild rice, crunchy vegetables and a lemon and herb sauce.
We are fishing in the late morning on a Sunday, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. It’s as if Québec City hasn’t quite woken up yet. Every so often, we dip and bob the brimbale, lengthening the line, sometimes even calling into the hole: “come on little fish!”
My daughter gives me a turn sitting on the bucket, which turns out to be way more comfortable than the folding stool. Looking around I see some families skating, and a group of young kids sliding down a hill in the distance.
As the morning merges into noon, Village Nordik becomes busy with families and couples, who greet us in French as they pass. Everyone is asking me something about “mordu”, but unfortunately, my basic vocabulary does not extend to the world of fishing. It sounds like the word “mort” which means death, so maybe they are asking us if we have killed any fish. I find out later that the verb is “mordre” – to bite, and the question is “are the fish biting?” or perhaps, “have you got a bite?”
Sadly the answer is no. Nothing mordu for us today!
Our nearest neighbours, a family from a nearby suburb, offer us a tip. The fish don’t like it if the bait is too big, they say, so my two-fish-on- the-line is not best strategy. The key is to cut bait in half. Without a knife to hand, I use the edge of the spoon to slice the tiny minnows. And now I am squirming too.
After a couple of hours and no success, we decide to pack up, not because we are cold – it’s a gorgeous sunny day, and we’re well dressed for the weather- but because, sadly, it is our last day in Québec City and our flight home leaves in a few hours.
We do find a few minutes to celebrate our efforts -not with a fish dinner- but with hot, fresh churros, bought from a stall in the market – a culinary hit for two hungry fisherwomen!
At the market’s entrance, there is a handy direct line to a taxi company. Since we are now running late for both our hotel checkout and our flight, we pick up the phone, and within 5 minutes, we are whisked back to the lobby of the Hilton.
I always imagined ice fishing to be some elaborate adventure, requiring a skidoo, a canvas tent, special equipment and some level of expertise, but here in the heart of Québec City, all you need is a couple of hours, a little sunshine and about 25 dollars to enjoy a truly memorable, and entirely pleasant family adventure.
Out of all the activities we experienced during our long weekend in Québec City, the peaceful fishing experience at Village Nordik produced some of our fondest memories. I guess you could say we’re hooked!
Village Nordik Details: