Bundle up and bait your hook in preparation to visit the greatest ice-fishing destinations in the nation.
Long-time Outdoor Canada magazine fishing editor Gord Pyzer shares the best spots to experience the nation’s amazing ice-fishing opportunities
CANADA’S TWO million freshwater lakes cover almost eight per cent of the country, and winter is the ideal time to take advantage of the bounty on our doorsteps. Here are the 10 best places in Canada to drop a line through the ice.
Lake Memphremagog, Que. Nestled in the picturesque rolling countryside of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, t he 42-kilometre-long Memphremagog offers ice anglers a range of species, including brown and rainbow trout, landlocked salmon, pike and perch from around Christmas until the end of March. There are several good access points around the lake for the do-it-yourselfers, or rental ice huts are available in the city of Magog.
Lake Simcoe, Ont. Just a short drive north of Toronto, Simcoe is arguably the most famous ice fishery in the world and offers a variety of opportunities for newcomers and veterans alike. First-timers can take advantage of the inexpensive, all-inclusive commercial ice-hut operations and get driven to the heated shelter, then shown everything they need to know to start catching yellow perch, whitefish and lake trout.
Lake Nipissing, Ont. You can rough it in style on northeastern Ontario’s Lake Nipissing by renting a four- or six-person “ice bungalow” right on top of one of the lake's best ice-fishing locations. The portable chalets are insulated, heated and include bunk beds, table and chairs, sink, stove, lights and a barbecue. Just step out the door and catch dinner.
Lake Superior, Ont. The biggest freshwater lake in the world is also one of the best ice fisheries, especially around the city of Thunder Bay and the town of Nipigon. Thunder Bay is home to spectacular lake trout fishing, while much shallower Black Bay offers superb opportunities to catch yellow perch. Being so close to a city also means you can fish during the day and enjoy fine dining and accommodation in the evening — the best of both worlds.
Lake of the Woods, Ont. Northwestern Ontario’s Lake of the Woods is a 400,000-hectare-plus winter wonderland, with 14,000 pine- and spruce-studded islands and more than 100,000 kilometres of shoreline. The federal government hires contractors each winter to maintain a multilane winter road system on the lake that lets First Nation communities in the southern portion drive to Kenora in the north. Cottagers and outdoor enthusiasts subsequently plow secondary roads off the main system to access additional parts of the lake, providing seasoned anglers with easy access to excellent wilderness fishing for walleye ( ABOVE), pike and lake trout. Lake Winnipeg and the Red River, Man. Lake Winnipeg and the Red River offer convenient access to some of the finest walleye fishing on Earth. Because it’s so big — Winnipeg is the third largest lake entirely in Canada — hundreds of thousands of hefty walleye migrate in the fall to the southern end and gather around the mouth of the Red River. The action gets underway around Christmas on the river itself, and by New Year's it’s booming on the lake.
Lake Athapapuskow, Man. Check Manitoba’s annual Master Angler Awards program (which officially records trophy-sized fish) and one location pops up repeatedly: Athapapuskow. Located just south of Flin Flon, 20,000-hectare “Athapap” offers quality lodge accommodation in the wintertime — a rarity across much of the northland. And you may hook a new world-record trout; Athapapuskow was home to a previous 64-pound, record-book giant.
Tobin Lake, Sask. Tobin Lake is one of the premier walleye fisheries in the nation — it’s where a world ice-fishing record walleye of 18.3 pounds was caught in 2005 — but come February and March, huge northern pike stretching more than four feet long and weighing more than 30 pounds steal the scene.
Last Mountain Lake, Sask. Forty kilometres northwest of Regina, Last Mountain Lake is the largest natural lake in southern Saskatchewan and a popular destination for those looking to catch walleye, whitefish, northern pike and yellow perch. But the lake is also home to a burgeoning burbot population. These freshwater cod are voracious predators and extremely active under the ice. Most people catch this fish, which looks like a cross between a catfish and an eel, by happy accident.
Cold Lake, Alta. It’s fitting that Cold Lake is home to one of the Canadian Forces bases housing the country’s fleet of CF-18S because the trout in the lake that lends its name to the city and base behave like fighter jets, swooping across sonar screens, chasing after lures and attacking them with vengeance. It adds up to easy and exciting winter angling.