If you’re looking for Ontario ice fishing or an Ontario winter getaway, ice fishing in Lake Simcoe may be the answer. In fact, Lake Simcoe has been called the ice fishing capital of Canada.
The community of Georgina has a long history of ice fishing on Lake Simcoe. In the winter, ice cream parlours have shut up shop, but bait stores are still open and fishing huts dot the frozen lake.
Today, the landscape is white-on-white and it feels more like being in northern Canada than a quick getaway from Toronto. Plus, given we’re all grounded at the moment, it’s a great road trip option if you live nearby.
You don’t need to be an expert fisherman—or woman—to try your luck ice fishing. You don’t need access to a boat to reach lake trout – all you need is some ice fishing gear (such as a pole and some bait). Here’s what it’s like to go Lake Simcoe ice fishing.
Ken Heyink grew up on the ice. He is the second-generation operator of Hank Heyink Fish Hut Rentals, which organizes ice fishing trips on Lake Simcoe. Ken says his love of ice fishing started when he was 12 years old, when he’d race home from school and go fish on the lake for a few hours, ignoring his homework.
Ken’s dad, Hank, was one of the operators offering ice fishing trips on Lake Simcoe back in 1952. Then, anglers walked out on the ice or catch a ride in their Model A 1927 pick-up truck. Today, Hank Heyink Fish Hut Rentals own 17 huts on the frozen lake and have swapped their truck for a vintage bright red 12-person bombardier. This ‘snow bus’ was originally used in Quebec by emergency services and eventually school buses and to help deliver the mail.
We travel two miles out onto the ice where huts dot the landscape. The bombardier bumps along the ice, snow kicking up from the ground onto the windscreen. The view outside is variations of white and grey. What our ride lacks in comfort, it makes up for in utility. Before GPS, Christmas trees would dot the frozen lake every 100 metres or so, like lights on a runway, guiding ice fishing outfitters and seasonal anglers across the ice. “I’m sure I could do this blindfolded,” says Ken.
Lake Simcoe is home to over 40 species of fish in the lake. The most popular catch for ice anglers are yellow perch, lake trout and whitefish, as well as Northern Pike. For purists, ice fishing is about making a hole in the frozen water, dropping a line and sitting on a stool bracing the elements as you wait for a fish to bite.
If you’re looking for some comfort, Hank Heyink Fish Hut Rentals and other operators in the area will bring you directly to ice fishing huts during the frigid winter months. The comfortable huts are heated using vented propane furnaces. There’s a stove at the back – to make a hot drink to keep warm or fry up your day’s catch. In the centre of the ground is a large hole cut into the ice, where you can drop your line and try your luck dangling your line in the ice-cold water.
Ice fishing poles are usually shorter than the ones you use in the summer as you’re casting into a small hole. If you don’t have your own equipment, outfitters will rent them to you. We try our luck with a tip-up pole, made from wood. When a fish bites, a trigger activates and lets you know you have caught something.
Padded benches line the inside of the hut on either side of the fishing hole and we’re also provided with a bucket of minnows to lure our catch. The fishing hole is equipped with tip up stands so you can rest your line. Like fishing during the warmer months, ice fishing is a game of chance (we leave empty-handed) and patience. There are some techniques you can employ – such as switching up your bait or slowly moving your tip up and down.
Maybe the fish are having an off day and after an hour of fishing, we leave empty-handed. If we did have better luck, the beauty of ice fishing is you can leave your catch on the ice until you’re ready to take it home. For Mike, ice fishing is about the challenge of finding the fish during the winter months, as fish move under the frozen lake. Even on a day where the weather could be best described as ‘inclimate’ there’s a sense of adventure in rugging up, embracing the Canadian winter and experiencing Ontario’s lakes in a way you normally can’t.
The ice fishing season on Lake Simcoe runs from January until mid-March.
Editor’s note: due to COVID-19, some travel operators are not operating in 2021.
What you will need:
- A valid fishing license before your rod hits the ice. You can arrange a license online or visit your local Canadian Tire store.
- Winter clothing – even though the transport and huts are heated, you’ll still need to dress to stay warm.
- If you have your own fishing rods and tackle, bring them along. Outfitters can also rent you a tip-up style rod and tackle is available for sale.