How ice fishing made me a better Canadian
LEFROY, ONT.— Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2003 12:00AM EST
Last updated Friday, Mar. 20, 2009 8:31PM EDT
Today, I feel a deep sense of shame. I am a bad Canadian,
for I have never been ice fishing.
Yes, I've caught fish before, from Arctic greyling on the banks of the Yukon's Ruby Range to a sweet little eastern brook trout while fly-fishing on Newfoundland's Gander River. But I do not own a rod or a tackle box or any of the necessary accoutrements. And I have never experienced the classic winter pursuit of ice fishing.
A wooden shanty, an icy hole, a jig, some minnows and a 2-4 of Blue. Woman versus the elements. It's a simple tradition for whiling away the long, dark winter hours, and it once meant sustenance during the frontier winters of long ago.
It's something every Canadian should try once, and today just happens to be the perfect day for it: minus 30, clear and bright. So off we go, 45 minutes north of Toronto, to a frozen Lake Simcoe.
This winter has been a doozy,
The tiny town of Lefroy (Pop: 1,000), near Barrie, is blanketed with both snow and angling possibilities.
We drive up to Lucky's Son's bait shop and fish-hut rentals. This building has been a cornerstone of the Lefroy community for 100 years, the shop has been in the Paiero family for the past 20, and Trevor, who now owns it along with his brother Chad, is taking us out on the lake today.
After Claire grabs us a scoop of live minnows (the best ice-fishing bait) from the back, we pile our gear into Trevor's truck and head across the wind-swept ice. About a kilometre from shore, dozens of colourful huts are set against the stark whiteness of winter. It's like a seasonal shantytown.
COZY ICE HUTS
I was told to come prepared, dress warmly and in layers, and I have done so: lumberjack and poofy down jackets, ski mitts, woollen tuque, hockey socks, thermal long johns, a thermos of "anti-freeze" (coffee) and a flask of "blood thinner" (brandy).
As soon as I step inside the small, wooden hut, I realize none of this is necessary. It's like a sweat lodge in here. There are plywood overlays and padded wooden benches, foam insulation and either a full-blast propane tank or a wooden stove, depending on the hut.
As he snares a live minnow with my rod's hook, Trevor warns that there aren't as many fish as there used to be. "Growing up, we used to drill a hole and catch a fish anywhere on the lake," he says. "It's not like that any more."
Which is part of the reason the Ministry of Natural Resources has stepped in, stocking local lakes and rivers with dwindling varieties such as whitefish, trout and walleye, and policing the area for fishing licences. Everyone needs a licence to fish in Ontario. (They're available at Canadian Tire stores.) The licences specify things such as catch limits, fish size and seasons. The fine for being caught without one is $130.
As we're setting up, a member of the ministry survey crew zips up on his snowmobile and knocks on our door. He asks us what we've caught. "Nothing," we tell him. He says it's been a slow day so far; he's seen only 10 catches among about 50 fishers.
After he leaves, Trevor hands me my rod and I release the line to 18 metres below the ice. The swimming minnow and the neon pearl disappear into darkness. My friend Kirk Prior uses a shiny lure on his rod, and Trevor opts for a live minnow on his hand-held jig. Trout and whitefish are supposedly biting now. Earlier in the season, it was perch.
A great Canadian day.
If you go
Ontario is a virtual lake-and-river paradise, a freshwater reservoir cupped in ancient hands of pre-Cambrian shield. Beneath the ice, the water is alive with cold-water fish.
Take 400 North to Hwy. 89, turn right. Go to Hwy. 11, turn left. When you reach the town of Churchill at Killarney Beach Road, turn right. Lefroy is after the train tracks.
WHERE TO GO
Lucky's Son's Bait Shop and Fish-Hut Rentals: Lefroy, Ont., the first store on the right, after the train tracks. Phone: (705) 456-2123.
Fish Ontario: For a list of fish-hut rentals, ice-fishing outfitters and loads of other useful information, visit http://www.fishontario.com.
Ice-fishing season ends on March 15, when all huts must be taken off the lake, no matter what the ice is doing. It's the law.
You can buy fishing licences at Canadian Tire or local bait shops. A three-year seasonal licence costs $27.50 and the annual sticker is an additional $21.50. For more information, visit the official Web site of the Ministry of Natural Resources at http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR/fishing.
Safety first: It's impossible to judge the strength of ice by its appearance. Ice strength is dependent on thickness, daily temperature, water depth and currents. Wait to walk out until there are at least 10 centimetres of clear, solid ice. Snowmobiles and ATVs need at least 13 centimetres, and cars and light trucks need 20 to 30 centimetres.
Dress warmly and always go with a friend, preferably someone who knows the area.