Some folks call Lake Simcoe Canada’s “Ice Fishing Capital.” In a big country with a lot of lakes, a lot of ice, and a lot of fish, that’s a mighty bold claim. But looking across the seasonal city of ice fishing huts that pops up on the lake’s frozen surface every year… well, maybe the notion isn’t so farfetched, after all.
Why is ice fishing so popular on Lake Simcoe? Peter Hoang (a.k.a. “fishcrazypeter”) says, “Instead of waiting all winter long for spring to arrive… we go ice fishing. Plus we do not need a boat to get out to our favorite spots.”
Makes sense to us.
Hoang, originally from Vietnam, lives in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and has been fishing Lake Simcoe for decades. He got hooked on fishing as a teenager when he was walking the Credit River Trail with his girlfriend and they stopped to watch an angler land “a big salmon.”
The bug bit him, and Hoang hit the water. “Float fishing for steelhead and salmon in the rivers is how I got into fishing, and then my love for fishing grew as I got older,” he said.
Being in Canada, Hoang eventually tried ice fishing. “We would rent a hut/fish house for the day. At that time we didn’t know what we are doing, but one day I caught myself a 19-pound lake trout while ice fishing and since then was hooked.”
Hoang tried many of the other lakes and rivers in the area but kept coming back to Lake Simcoe. Simcoe is the fourth largest lake located entirely within the province of Ontario. The lake’s proximity to the Toronto metro area — half an hour, more or less — is one clue to its popularity as a fishing destination. The fact that it completely freezes over, unlike nearby Lakes Ontario and Huron, is another.
But what really keeps folks coming back winter after winter is the fishery, itself. As Hoang says, “It’s a big body of water. Lots of different species to target. For whatever type of fish you target on Lake Simcoe there’s always a chance of hooking onto a trophy size fish.”
Jumbo perch, whitefish, lake trout, largemouth bass — they’re all in there. When Lake Simcoe is in its liquid form, Hoang likes to chase the local bucketmouths, particularly with topwater baits. “I like them because there are so many ways to catch them. And the way they attack or bite your bait is so exciting…. I love how they explode to hit my bait. My heart starts pumping and I get an adrenaline rush.”
But when he’s fishing through a head-sized hole in the ice, Hoang prefers to pull up jumbo perch, whitefish, and lake trout — which can easily be 20 pounds or over. If you’re a first-time ice angler on Lake Simcoe, Hoang recommends hiring a guide or hut operator: The lake is just too big to guess at, and a guide will know the ice conditions and put you on the fish. But book early, because hut operators’ and guides’ calendars fill up quickly, often months in advance.
If you’re angling without a guide, Hoang insists that you need a fish finder wherever you’re ice fishing. “Without it, you will not know if the fish are there or not. You are basically fishing blind. [A fish finder] is your eyes underwater.”
On Lake Simcoe, Hoang always fishes with fluorocarbon line because the water is so clear. Water clarity is great for fish, but if they can see the line, not so good for anglers. And you need to try different baits and presentations. “Fish always bite, no matter what time of the day or what the conditions are, you just need to experiment with different presentations. And try to figure out what they want for that given day.”
- One thing that Hoang doesn’t experiment with when ice fishing is safety. He never fishes alone, always checks ice conditions, and recommends a flotation suit or life jacket. As good as the the fishing may be on Lake Simcoe, “No fish is worth [your life].”