Winter Fishing - It's the Cool Thing to Do
You may have driven by lakes, or Hamilton harbor, in the winter and seen small sheds out on the ice in various places or people standing out in the middle of the frozen lake huddled in a small area and wondered if they were out of their minds.
Ice fishing is a whole other experience and can be great for the entire family, all ages. Fishing can be done with or without shelters, but fishing without a shelter is best done on the relatively mild days with lots of sun and little to no wind. The equipment needed can be relatively costly initially but it lasts for a long time. The best way to start would be to find places that offer rental ice fishing packages which will include an all-weather hut, pre-drilled holes, a heater and possibly transportation out to the hut. Fishing tackle and bait may be extra but would likely be worth the added cost initially.
Safety is the prime concern with this sport and it is extremely important to ensure the ice thickness and strength is enough to support you. Generally, four inches of solid black ice is the minimum to have but it is important to realize that ice thickness may not be the same over the entire lake as underwater currents in certain areas may affect ice development.
Finding the right spot to go is dependent on what type of fish you like to go after and knowing something about the lake bottom and shape. Your local MNR & F office is a great resource as they would have knowledgeable staff (e.g. fisheries biologist) who can offer some great advice. They also likely have contour maps of all the most popular lakes within their area which would give you a great idea of potentially good spots such as drop-offs, weed edges, underwater shoals and deep areas. The maps also show inflow and outflow areas that would be good places to fish but also be mindful that ice thickness in these areas will be much different. The office also likely stocks many lakes with fish on an annual or bi-annual basis and can offer you a list of all these lakes and the fish that are being put in. While at the office, you will need to get their annual Ontario fishing regulation booklet which will detail all the regulations you need to be aware of for the lake you intend to go to. Regulations will vary from lake to lake so this is very important for you to stay on the right side of the law. For starters, anyone between the ages of 18 and 65 is required to have a valid fishing licence when fishing. The licence can have some variables such as the limit of fish you are able to catch and the period of time it is valid for and these affect the cost of the licence. These are all explained in the regulations booklet. On the Ontario government website, there is a great link to FISH ON-LINE which contains a lot of the information about lakes over the entire province and it is fairly easy to navigate through.
The things we enjoy about the sport is being out in the fresh air, getting healthy exercise and the anticipation and excitement of catching the "big one". You can enjoy the day even more by bringing out a small portable heater/stove so you can make hot beverages or heat up a lunch. But even better is actually having one of the fresh fish you caught and having it as your "shore lunch". (Check first if it's safe to eat!) On the relatively mild and sunny days, there is nothing better than taking a portable camp chair out on the ice and soaking up the sun's rays while you fish. But beware, the effects of the sun off the snow is magnified so it is important to wear sun screen and polarized sunglasses.
A great time for first timers to try this sport is family day long weekend (February 17-19) as anyone can fish, for free, without a licence.
Another opportunity is tomorrow, at Valens Ice Fishing Derby! For more information on the event and Hamilton Conservation Authority, click here