With thousands of lakes to choose from plus trout, pickerel and salmon waiting to bite, grab your gear and head to the ice.
Suggested tweet: Fall hook, line and sinker for ice fishing in Canada this winter http://ow.ly/BeESI #explorecanada
The lake is solid under my feet as I drill through its hard blue surface. Bits of snow and ice fly up as I bear down on the auger that I’m gripping to create a nice, round hole. I quickly bait a fish line with my bare fingers, drop it through and begin to jig. Within minutes, I feel a hard tug and pull up a feisty rainbow trout.
Well, at least that’s how I imagine ice fishing. The freezing cold, the gear, the technical know-how—it all sounds intimidating. In Canada, however, ice fishing has come a long way from the days when men—it was always men who ice fished when I was growing up—sat around a hole in the ice and nipped brandy to keep warm.
In Ontario, for instance, unheated ice shanties have evolved into decadent bungalows on the ice that provide all the comforts of home—or at least a kitchen, washroom and beds. Hire an outfitter and your fishing licence, gear and bait will be part of the package. If you’re new to the sport, your outfitter will be happy to drill holes in the ice.
One of the most popular lakes in the province for “hard water” fishing is Lake Nipissing, 320 km (199 mi) north of Toronto. In early January, an entire community of colourful huts and bungalows is pulled onto the ice and remains there until spring, usually around the middle of March. Some visitors like it so much they stay for days or weeks at a time, joyfully jigging for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which could be pike, pickerel or perch.
If the idea of sleeping on a frozen lake is too scary—shifting ice can make terrifying noises—then consider a day trip. On Spray Lakes, just outside Banff National Park, AB, an outfitter will guide you to the perfect spot on the ice, then go ashore to cook your catch—usually trout or white fish—while you enjoy the splendour of the Rocky Mountains in winter.
In Saskatchewan, fishing in winter is particularly gratifying because you’re allowed to use two rods at the same time. With 100,000 lakes in the province, the hard part is figuring out where to go. Some locals have come up with an iFish app to share tips such as where the walleye are biting or which lake has yet to freeze solid.
In British Columbia, anglers are almost assured a catch because many lakes in the province have been stocked with kokanee, a variety of salmon that lives in lakes rather than the ocean. In winter, lake trout, rainbow trout, pickerel and pike are also biting.
If you’re feeling competitive, then sign up for the annual Canadian Ice Fishing Championship, held every February on Lake Simcoe, north of Toronto. Land a lunker (an exceptionally large fish) and you could win fame as well as fortune, with about $11,000 in prize money up for grabs.
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