Ice fishing on Kempenfelt Bay
Tom Carr of Fatal Force Outfitters catches his second whitefish off Johnson's Beach Monday morning, as his friend looks out the tent door in the distance. Carr's auger measured three-inches depth of ice on Kempenfelt Bay. PHOTO: CHERYL BROWNE/BARRIE EXAMINER
With red, cold hands, Tom Carr pulled his second large whitefish out of the frigid waters of Kempenfelt Bay on Monday.
Perched over the six-inch wide hole he had just augured through the freshly frozen ice, the wind whipped the temperature down to – 20 degrees Celsius on the blustery cold morning.
Gauging the depth at just over 40 feet on his electronic fish finder, Carr jiggled the locally manufactured Meegs lure (made by James Meger) until a second whitefish took the bait.
“That’s a fair size,” Carr said, laying the still flopping fish down beside his three-foot long fishing rod.
Guestimating the fish to be approximately 26-inches long and six pounds, he knew it wasn’t going to break any records.
According to Alesha Howran of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the record-holding whitefish was caught by Terry Frook, who pulled a 14.77 pound whitefish out of Georgian Bay in 1996.
Twenty years later, it’s the thrill of the chase that brought many fishers out onto the bay off Johnson’s Beach a mere three days after the lake froze over.
“It never gets old. There’s an instantaneous adrenaline surge. You get this child-like excitement with every hook in, and every fish you pull out of the water,” said Tom Brittain, owner of the Bait Bucket on Innisfil Street.
“It’s the anticipation of not knowing what species you caught or how big it is. It’s always an immediate adrenaline rush,” he said.
But it’s also dangerous when the lake first freezes, he said.
Winter whitefish season – with a Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) outdoors sport card – runs from Jan. 1 until March 15. (The summer season runs from mid-May until Sept. 30.)
Like Carr, Brittain said many ice fishers wear a float suit that will keep them buoyant should they break through the ice, as well as carry ice picks to help drag themselves across the ice if it should become unstable.
He also recommends a spud bar, a long steel rod with a flat end, fishers poke into the ice to determine the depth.
“If you wear a normal coat, if you fall through, you’re going to get water-logged and panic before you get a chance to pull yourself out,” he said.
The ministry of natural resources encourages fishers to check ice thickness with a spud bar repeatedly as they move farther from shore.
“Ice does not freeze at a uniform thickness across most lakes and rivers,” said MNRF spokesperson, Jolanta Kowalski. “It can be hazardous at the start of the winter season when near-shore ice is often much thicker and safer than ice further out.
“And not all ice is created equal. Ice that has formed over flowing water, springs, pressure cracks, old ice holes or around the mouths of rivers and streams can be weaker than surrounding ice,” she said.
Ice at the top of Lake Simcoe in Lake Couchiching near Orillia has been approximately eight-inches thick for the past several weeks, said Scott McCaul, at the Bait Bucket, after he finished fishing at Johnson’s Beach for the day.
“And people have been out on Little Lake in Barrie for close to three weeks,” McCaul said.
The Barrie man said he’s been fishing in Lake Simcoe for 20-plus years.
“It’s starting out to be a good year,” he said, adding he caught a couple of lake trout Monday morning.
“I bring a fish finder with me. It’s something to watch to keep my mind occupied when I’m sitting there. But once you get a tug, it’s exciting,” McCaul said.
He buys Badd Boyz Goby glow lures from Brittain, who said the lures are made by local man, Lou Maglietta, the former owner of Simcoe Bait and Tackle.
Many of Monday’s fishers had small one-person canvas ice huts, although several people had two-person huts, which range in price between $200 to $2,500.
All solid ice huts must be registered with the MNRF.
For more information about ice fishing, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/fishing.