There has been no shortage of fishermen on local lakes as the ice fishing season gets off to a hot start.
Avid local fisherman David Brain says ice fishing is especially enjoyable this year amid the constraints and rules of the pandemic and the current provincial lockdown.
“When winter comes, a lot of people just hunker down in the house and don’t do anything. It’s beautiful right now to be getting out of the house and enjoying the elements,” Brain said.
It turns out many locals and folks from out of town concur with Brain, as area lakes have been welcoming rising numbers of fishermen during the early part of the season.
“I think because a lot of people are out of work they are out fishing. Lake Simcoe is wide open, so you’ve got everyone from Innisfil and Keswick up here fishing now, which technically you aren’t supposed to do,” Brain said, referencing the lockdown rules.
Brain has been fishing at Lake St. John this year. He says it’s been much busier than normal - a trend mirrored on other area lakes.
“I can remember coming out here on a weekday in previous years and there would only be a dozen guys out here, and there is definitely more than that out here now,” Brain said.
Due in part to a high volume of fishermen, Brain says he is off to a less than successful start to his season.
“There have been a lot more people out here, so whether it’s been overfished or not is definitely a question,” he said.
“You took a look at Tudhope Park and you see 100 to 200 huts out there, and then you see 100 more huts off of Airport Road on the Rama side, and you kind of wonder," he said.
To gain an edge on the competition, Brain has turned to the Navionics App, which helps him find hot spots in the area.
“It shows you the water depths. Some people like to fish shallow, some people like to fish deep, it all depends on what species you are looking for. It helps find those little hot spots," he explained.
Avid fisherman Vince Price normally fishes on Lake Simcoe, but has had to resort to Couchiching, Sparrow Lake, and Lake St. John as the mild weather has delayed the start of the season on larger lakes.
“We aren’t fishing where we want to be yet. We won’t take our snowmobiles or four-wheelers out there until there is a good eight-and-a-half to nine inches of ice,” Price explained.
“It’s very safe for walking on, but where we want to fish would be a long walk.”
So far, Price has found some success while fishing on the smaller local lakes. Just the other day they caught six pickerel and two crappies on Lake St. John, which was enough for a meal for three families.
Price has been enjoying ice fishing this winter, saying it’s an activity he can do with friends - safely - during the pandemic.
“The nice thing about fishing is you can social distance. We meet at the lake, we walk out, and we are never within 15-20 metres of each other, but we have a little chat while we are fishing; it’s a perfect activity.”
One of Price’s fishing buddies, Don Cox, has been fishing on Sparrow Lake, where he has been finding success.
“I would say it is good for this point in the season, especially for us who know where to go and have their own spots that we’ve developed through the years,” Cox said.
“I would say fishing for perch and pickerel has been really good to this point.”
Cox is excited for the colder temperatures to arrive later this month so he can venture further out on local lakes.
“People aren’t using the full capacity of the lake at this point as it’s still a little dicey for machinery. We would normally be expecting Simcoe to be freezing over in the next week, but it shows no sign of it at this point,” he said.
Despite fishermen looking forward to thicker ice, Cox is trying to enjoy the early parts of the season when fish tend to be more inclined to bite.
“Early ice is always a good time, the fish seem to be motivated,” he said.
Cox has also been experiencing a busier than normal crowd on local lakes so far this season, which is a trend he expects to continue due to the pandemic.
“There is a real crowd coming out of Tudhope and Airport Road on the Rama side. It’s a little more than usual with the COVID year, especially because we are the first ice to the north up Highway 11,” Cox said.
While local lakes already seem busy, Trombly’s Tackle Box, a bait and sporting good store on West Street South, is expecting an even bigger crowd of fishermen on the lake come the middle of January.
“There aren’t a lot of things to do right now, so everybody is going to be running on to the water to fish. It’s an activity you can do while keeping isolated with your family,” said Dean Marini, a fisherman who works in the fishing department.
“There are a lot more people coming up from the big city. Ice fishing appears to be doing well right now even though it really just started.”
A hot item at Tombly’s this year has been ice huts, as people look for ways to enjoy ice fishing with family and friends while keeping their social distance.
“We’ve been selling more ice huts this year because people aren’t sharing anymore because of COVID; things are a little bit different now,” Marini explained.
For people interested in getting started with ice fishing, a licence-free family fishing weekend is coming up Feb. 13-15.