03/28/2012 07:39 EDT | Updated 05/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba Lake Fishermen Rescued From Ice Floe

BIRCH POINT, Man. - A group of American ice anglers rescued off a giant ice floe in a lake that straddles the Manitoba-Ontario boundary celebrated the adventure by frying up its catch of the day and kicking back with beers.

Tracy Sobush, one of the 13 men from Wisconsin, said the group of friends travels each year to fish at the spot near Birch Point on the Manitoba side of Lake of the Woods.

Although the owner of the Silver Birch Resort had warned them weeks before that they might want to cancel their holiday because of warm weather, they decided to travel north and try fishing anyway.

They had already been out fishing for a couple days. The ice was a half-metre thick in parts, and the fish were jumping.

But on Tuesday afternoon, they ran into trouble.

"It was raining. Everybody was getting pretty wet, and it was getting darker. And we're like, 'Let's pack up and head back to the lodge,'" said Sobush.

They got on their all-terrain vehicles and started to head back, but the landing they had used earlier to get on the lake was gone. They drove around looking for another way out but discovered they were on a super-sized ice floe, about five kilometres by 10 kilometres in size, surrounded by open water.

"It's like, 'Oh boy, that don't look good.'"

Sobush said an unexpected wind had opened a pressure crack in the ice and started blowing them out into the lake.

He said they didn't panic. They were all dressed in warm clothing and had their shacks to keep them warm.

"We all just went, 'Well, we'll ride it out. Wait for the wind to switch and it'll blow this giant iceberg back to shore and we'll get off.'"

Eventually they did start to worry, Sobush said. What if the wind was so strong it pushed them back to shore and buckled the entire thing? One of them used a cellphone to call the lodge's owner, Leonard Friesen. He then called RCMP.

More than a dozen rescue workers and firefighters were called out and a special airboat was brought in. Over the next few hours, it made several trips over about a kilometre of water, slush and ice to bring the men to shore.

Sobush said the only thing the rescue crews couldn't bring back were their quads. So the group rented a helicopter to pluck the pricey machines from the ice floe.

Sobush, a welder from Manitowoc, Wis., said they still have a few days of their Canadian vacation left. And although they won't be ice fishing, they may jump in a boat to search for walleye.

"That's safe, isn't it?" he laughed. "We've got life-jackets."

— by Chris Purdy in Edmonton