winter in Muskoka brings another season of some of the Province's
best ice fishing. The six primary ice fishing lakes in the District
of Muskoka usually have quite a lot of ice huts on them during this
time of year, and for good reason. Lakes Muskoka, Rosseau &
Joseph are home to healthy lake trout and pikerel populations. Lake
of Bays also sports a healthy population in trout and pikerel, and
speaking of pikerel don't forget about Three Mile Lake, then there
is Skeleton Lake for whitefish.
point is, wherever you decide to go, the ice fishing is good. Ice
Fishing years ago meant sitting in a freezing shack or modified
tent, or worse still, just hunched over an eight inch hole in the
ice as you are frostbitten by the unrelenting wind. With the growing
popularity of this great winter activity things have changed.
There are huts with all manner of heat devices from propane and
oil furnaces to the more classic wood stove, better fishing equipment
and of course the all important fish finder. The best part is, you
don't need to bring these things with you. There are many places
in and around Bracebridge which will rent you everything you need
to make your family's first ice fishing experience a good one.
Why not try ice fishing when you are looking for something new
and interesting to do this winter? There is nothing quite like inviting
a trophy-sized fish up through the hole to discuss what's on the
menu for later on that evening!
With the advent of power augers, more sophisticated fish finders
and GPS devices, ice fishing has evolved into a sport where one
can really get pretty technical about catching the 'big one'. It
is one of the few sports though that you can still get away with
buying a spool of line and a bag of minnows and with a little know-how
still have the same chance as someone who's invested a few hundred
has long been rumoured that fish stocks have been depleted in the
Muskoka lakes, but nothing could be further from the truth. Carefully
management and stocking programs by the Ministry of Natural Resources
and catch-and-release efforts by local and visiting anglers, all
have contributed to a healthy population of game fish.
As they say, "Early to bed, early to rise, fish like heck
and make up lies." Happy fishing!
ICE FISHING EQUIPMENT
There are two types of equipment that are used for ice fishing:
either stationary lines, or jigging lines. The simplest form of
stationary line is the set-line. A two to three foot slender willow
or dogwood branch is anchored in the frozen slush so that the smaller
tip is centered over the hole. After attaching a small elastic to
your line by means of a couple of loops, it will be hung near the
tip of your branch or twig. A minnow is then suspended under a sinker
about one to five feet off bottom. If a fish hits, the elastic cushions
the strike and pops off the branch. After the fish is landed, the
elastic will hold the bait at exactly the previous depth. Floats
can also be used to hold a minnow off bottom.
provide the opportunity to move the bait as well as detecting a
strike. Commercial tip-ups usually have a small reel to hold the
line and a flag mechanism to indicate the presence of a fish. The
best type to purchase are those that allow the reel to sit under
the surface of the water. Some tip-ups manufactured by Windlass
have a metal or plastic vane that catch the wind, jigging the minnow.
These are very effective since they offer increased visibility and
action of the bait under water. Another type of tip-up which is
extremely sensitive is utilized inside ice huts. A balanced stick
carved out of cedar is held in a wire cradle on the top of a wooden
stand. The line on the stick is attached to a spreader which consists
of a lead weight and two to three hooks. The spreader sits on the
bottom and dropper lines are positioned at various depths off bottom.
Any movement of the bait causes the tip-up stick to move indicating
the presence of a fish.
Jigging equipment consists of a reel either spinning or baitcasting
matched with a short rod. Rods are usually 24 to 32 inches in length
and feature a variety of actions from light to medium heavy. Most
ice fishermen use line in the range of 8 to 14 pound test. A good
quality line is Trilene XL, Ultra thin, or Cold Weather. Since ice
can be abrasive it makes sense to use line of approximately two
pounds greater strength than you would use in warm water conditions.
SOME TIPS FOR THE BEGINNERS
1. Be Safe - Although on new ice you can fish on about three
inches, by the end of the season six or eight inches of bad ice
might not be enough. Check ice thickness and conditions before you
go out every time.
2. Be Prepared - Bring some rope with you in case someone
happens to go through, and remember to pack some food. Ice fishing
can be a long process, and you're bound to get hungry. Other items
you might consider bringing include a change of clothes, extra boots,
a cell phone in case of emergency, and a first aid kit. Always get
yourself set up before you put your first line down. If you can't
grab the gaff hook to bring up that trophy that just bit right on
because the hook is under your backpack, you are bound for disappointment.
3. Be Mobile - Ice fishing in a heated hut is great. The
only problem is that if you only fish the holes in the hut you aren't
going to catch many fish. This is why you normally see fishermen
with a line down in the hut and a line outside. If you have a fish
finder all the better. Some people have been known to move their
outside holes up to a dozen times a day or more! Keep moving after
the fish, and you will have a better chance of landing one.
4. Be Smart - Fish have a brain the size of a pea, and the
average fisherman's brain is about a thousand times larger. A fish's
stomach on the other hand is about twenty times the size of it's
brain (on average), while our stomachs are pretty much even. Fish
aren't intelligent creatures, but they do rely on a number of senses
to fill their oversized bellies. These include, colour, smell, and
yes sound. You might want to turn the radio down inside the hut
for a better chance to land a trophy. Wash your hands in lake water
and don't use perfumed soaps. Close the curtains on the fish hut
and try to keep things as dark as possible inside. You will be surprised
how much these simple things will help you to catch those fish.
5. Be Respectful - The Ministry of Natural Resources has
strictly posted guidelines as to how many fish you are allowed to
keep. They are always out on the lakes looking for those unfortunate
people who dare to go over their quotas, and fines are not small.
Beside it being the law, consider that the more fish you take out
of the lake, the less will be there next time. The larger fish are
not as good to eat as the little 'pan fryers' but many people keep
these large fish. The problem there is, the larger fish are the
breeders. The end result is no fish for anybody. Please respect