As the temperature plummeted in recent days, some anglers couldn’t resist the urge to get out onto local lakes and start ice fishing. But local experts are urging people to wait for stronger ice.
Mike Borrelli, who jokingly calls himself ‘a god of ice fishing’, says there isn’t enough ice on Lake Simcoe to drag out the hut just yet.
“It’s not safe. I see people lined up on Lake Couchiching and they are telling me there is two to five inches (of ice), but I've learned my lesson in the past, and I want a little bit more,” he said.
Borrelli says big windstorms will find cracks in the lakes and blow the waters wide open in a hurry — something he experienced several years ago.
“I see the nights are starting to get colder, temperatures are going to be in the teens, so give it another two weeks of real cold ice-making weather,” he said.
“I think by February we will be good to go. It’s just the wind that we need to be worried about, but once we get to -15 or colder it will make about an inch of ice a night.”
Borrelli says he won’t be revealing his best fishing spots, but he notes whitefish and lake trout are found in more shallow area os Lake Simcoe.
“They are eating the goby minnow, which are in more shallow water,” he explained. “We use a lure that looks closest to a goby; some guys swear by certain ones, but the Bad Boy lure has worked for me on Simcoe for the last ten years.”
Borrelli says his passion for ice fishing started when he was about 12.
“I would get dropped off on Lake Simcoe and go out by myself. I just think it’s the best thing in the world. You are out in the fresh air, you are in a hut to stay warm, but still outdoors, and I just like the camaraderie of it,” he said.
“You go home, clean your fish, have a nice dinner, and then you get to relax. It’s a great feeling.”
Harold Cashen is another local avid ice fisher who refuses to test the waters this early into a season that saw very mild temperatures just several days ago.
“The rule of thumb from all of us guys who came up from the city, is you don’t go out fishing until the operators are out,” he said.
“On my bay in Waubaushene, there are already people out ice fishing and have been for two weeks; they are the ones who risk everybody else’s life.”
Cashen usually fishes out on Lake St. John, and before that fished on Lake Simcoe, but stopped when the ice became unpredictable.
“You used to be able to get out on Jan. 1 or Jan. 2 on Lake Simcoe in the old days, but now I’d say February is more the time to get out depending on the weather,” he said.
Cashen moved to Orillia from Toronto in 1987 and says this is one of the premier areas in Ontario for ice fishing.
“I enjoy sitting in the hut, jigging, and finding good spots to get a fair amount of fish,” he said.
Cashen says fishers should try Lake St. John for pike and pickerel, and Lake Simcoe for trout and whitefish.
Over at Trombly’s Tackle Box on West Street South in Orillia, they have seen plenty of traffic over the last couple of weeks from customers who are buying everything they will need for the ice fishing season.
“At the moment people are after Clam and Otter fish huts; people are going crazy over those this year,” said customer service associate, Larry Twist.
“I think a lot of people experienced how brutally cold it was last winter, and this year a lot of people are looking for ways to keep warm.”
Another hot item at Trombly’s is aqua HD cameras, which can show anglers where the fish are through the ice.
Twist says anglers usually start ice fishing for perch two weeks before Christmas, and the season hasn’t been delayed for everybody.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too early; it is a little later on Couch this year as guys have just started to fish on the smaller lakes. But I know a lot of guys who have gone up to North Bay to get started while waiting for Simcoe,” he said.
“We’ve received calls here every day from people living in the Toronto area asking how the lakes are and if they are able to get out there. It’s been a little tougher for out-of-towners with the parking restrictions in the area, but it’s still fairly busy.”