Twice a year, the Ontario government designates several days during which Canadian residents can fish for free without a conservation licence in any body of water where fishing is allowed. In 2011, those free days are Feb. 19-21 and July 2-10. The Ontario Family Fishing Weekend events held in winter make it easy to try ice fishing for the first time, or to invite a friend or child along if you are already a fan of this great recreational sport. Not only do you get to spend quality time with friends and family, you get to catch your own dinner! (Photo courtesy Boris Mann)

Celebrate family and a slice of Canadiana:
Feb. 19-21 is licence-free Family Fishing Weekend in Ontario

News Archive


In the southern part of this province, where the majority of Ontarians live, winter is both celebrated and reviled. Seems you either love it, or hate it.  

Those in the “hate it” category have likely never strapped on a pair of skis. Or snowshoes. They have never experienced the thrill of a snowmobile. Or skated on a pond, or tobogganed down an icy hill since the age of 10. Any activity that involves the possibility of frostbite, or the need for an unflattering tuque, is out of the question. For these folks, winter is something to escape by relaxing in front of a roaring fire until spring or, for the lucky ones, on a sunny beach in the Caribbean.  

For those who enjoy the great outdoors no matter the weather — people like Paula Newton in Victoria Harbour on the southern shores of Georgian Bay — winter offers golden opportunities to stay fit, have fun and to bring the community closer together by participating in activities that are older than Canada herself.

Newton, a founding member of Georgian Bay WOW (which stands for Women’s Outdoor Weekends), has been hunting and fishing for more than 40 years. When I caught up with the 60-year-old by phone, she was busy helping to organize two ice fishing events, the first one an informal derby off the community dock in Victoria Harbour, hosted by her family. “We organize it, drill the holes, charge admission and use the money for prizes. It’s a great day,” says Newton, who expected about 35 neighbours and their friends to participate, including youngsters who had never tried ice fishing before.  

The second event is the 7th Annual Ladies Ice Fishing Day, to be held a 30-minute drive north to Honey Harbour on Feb. 19 as part of the Ontario government’s Family Fishing Weekend.  

Twice a year, the government designates several days during which residents can fish licence-free in any body of water where fishing is allowed. The 2011 dates are Feb. 19-21 and July 2-10. Now in its 16th year (5th for ice fishing), the special weekends are led by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which supports community events such as the Ladies Ice Fishing Day sponsored by Georgian Bay WOW.  

It’s a weekend when Ontarians are invited to grab their friends, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and children and head out on the ice, be it on a lake, river or stream.  

Special prizes just for kids

In Bancroft, there are special prizes for children who pull fish out of Paudash Lake, while in Barrie, there are $50,000 in prizes up for grabs in the 6th annual Ice Fishing Tournament hosted by Simcoe County Canadian Home Builders Association on Kempenfelt Bay. And in Sutton, Sibbald’s Point Provincial Park is the site of the 3rd annual Take a Kid Ice Fishing event, with special emphasis on introducing children and their families to ice fishing on Lake Simcoe.  

In Northumberland County, you can participate in the Rice Lake Ice Fishing Hut Hop on the Bewdley waterfront and the Gore’s Landing government dock Feb. 20-21. In Cambridge, the Grand River Conservation Authority is hosting the 2nd annual Catch and Release Pan Fish Derby at Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area, where you can also skate on the lake.  

If you love perch, Long Point is the place to be Feb. 19 for Rotten Ronnie’s 3rd Annual Perch Ice Fishing Derby, which features a special kids division. In Sarnia, the Bluewater Anglers Ice Fishing Derby has several prizes to be won for fish caught through the ice of Sarnia Bay off Centennial Park.  

Newton isn’t surprised her group’s Ladies event is so popular — there’s only room for 40 participants, and with many women returning year after year, including mother-and-daughter duos, it quickly sells out.    

“A lot of the women have been around ice fishing — their husbands have done it — and they’ve decided to try it out for themselves,” says Newton. “This makes it all easy for them — they just have to bring a chair.”

As host, Georgian Bay WOW, a group of women who enjoy the outdoors and introduces others to sports such as black powder shooting, archery and ATV riding during special workshops that attract people as far away as Trenton and Guelph, does indeed make it easy for newcomers to enjoy ice fishing. Jigging sticks and live bait are provided to catch crappie, perch and pike. Lunch, including chili and hotdogs, are served right on the ice, where holes will have been drilled before participants arrive for the day. When the fishing is over, and games such as an ice auger relay have been played, the event moves into the cozy confines of the local marina for an awards banquet.  

What is it about fishing that lures Newton out, even in winter? “It can be relaxing,” says Newton, whose fishing paraphernalia includes sophisticated camera equipment. “And it keeps me active.”  

Check the OFAH website for Family Fishing Weekend events near you. — February 2011