What You Need to Know About Ice Fishing on Lake Simcoe

Innisfil Beach Park, Alcona. Winter 2013 Innisfil Beach Park, Alcona. Winter 2013 Photo: Kris Jaskielewicz

Lake Simcoe is the most intensively fished inland lake in the province with more people fishing it in the winter than at any other time of the year. Ice fishing usually does not begin until after the New Year. Although species, such as yellow perch, have a year-round open season on Lake Simcoe, weather patterns show that safe ice often does not form until after January 1. Shallower sections of the lake, such as Cook's Bay, usually freeze first. Deeper portions, such as Kempenfelt Bay, can freeze over much later. Likewise, anglers fishing shallow water near shore for species, such as perch or pike, could be safely standing on plenty of ice, yet further out on the whitefish or lake trout grounds, there may be little or no ice.

What anglers need to know:

  • When ice anglers are unsure of ice conditions they should contact the ice hut operator closest to where they want to fish. These experts check the ice daily and are able to provide the most up-to-date information.

  • All ice huts on Lake Simcoe must be registered with either the Aurora or Midhurst district office of the MNR. If your hut is on the west or northern part of the lake contact Midhurst at (705) 725-7500. For huts on the south or east side contact the Aurora office at (905) 713-7400. Huts only need to be registered once, unless they change ownership. The number assigned to you must be clearly displayed on your hut, preferably at the front. Registration is free.

  • During a good winter, there can be over 4,000 ice huts on the lake. Many of these huts are available to rent on a daily basis from ice hut operators located around the lake. A current list of operators is available in Ontario outdoor magazines, on some Lake Simcoe Web pages, and from MNR offices.

  • All ice huts must be removed from the lake by March 15 every year. This is also the date when lake trout and whitefish season closes.

  • Ice fishing on Lake Simcoe generates more than $28 million annually in tourism income and is vital to the local economy.

  • More yellow perch are caught during the winter than all other species combined. Lake Simcoe is a world-class perch fishery, and both anglers and MNR want to keep it that way. A limit on perch was adopted for Lake Simcoe and its tributaries starting in 1997. Please check the table below for current limits.

  • When transporting fish home, they must be packed so that a Conservation Officer can easily count and identify them. They should not be packed in a block of ice, nor should all of the skin be removed from the fish.

  • Lake Simcoe offers ice anglers a wide variety of fish to catch during winter. Listed below are some of the popular species and their catch limits for Lake Simcoe (Fisheries Management Zone 16 in the Fishing Regulations Summary):
Species Full Seasonal Licence (Sport) Limit Conservation Licence Limit
Yellow Perch 50 daily 25 daily
Lake Trout 2 daily 1 daily
Whitefish 2 daily 1 daily
Northern pike 6 daily 2 daily
Walleye 4 daily 2 daily
Black crappie 30 daily 10 daily
Rainbow smelt No limit No limit
Lake herring (cisco)* from 2015 2 daily 1 daily

*Recreational Fishing Regulations 2015, page 81 - Exceptions to Zone 16 Regulations:
Link: docs.ontario.ca/documents/3955-2015-engl...ete.html#document/p1

  • Anglers who catch their own baitfish for personal use are restricted to a daily catch and possession limit of 120 baitfish throughout the entire year. The 18 kg (40 lb.) possession limit for the winter months was rescinded January 1, 2000. Commercial baitfish harvesters and dealers are not permitted to use salt to preserve baitfish, or buy or sell baitfish that have been preserved with salt. Individual anglers, however, may still salt their 120 minnows and continue to chum with them. These salted minnows become part of that angler’s total baitfish possession limit. Therefore, the salted minnow count, combined with any live baitfish, cannot exceed 120. For more details, please contact your nearest MNR office.

  • *At one time, lake herring (cisco) was a very common catch during the winter on Lake Simcoe but their numbers have dropped dramatically since 1978. Over the past few years the few remaining cisco that were caught were quite large. This, combined with the absence of younger fish, indicates a lack of natural reproduction. In an effort to preserve the remaining stock, anglers are no longer permitted to keep any cisco they catch in Lake Simcoe or its tributaries effective January 1, 2001. Due to their large size, cisco can be confused with whitefish from Lake Simcoe. The easiest way to tell the two species apart is by examining the mouths of the two fish. On a whitefish, the mouth is underslung - the top lip extends over the bottom one. On a cisco, the mouth is directly at the tip of the snout - both lips meet evenly when the mouth is closed. MNR staff encourages anglers to quickly and carefully live-release any cisco they catch.
  • Lake Herring Whitefish Identification
  • *Please Note: Although at time of writing in 2001 the state of the cisco fishery in the lake was quite grave, as of now (Nov 2013) the situation has improved dramatically. Two good year classes 2004 and 2008 exist- so natural reproduction appears to have begun again. For the time being however the fishery still remains closed.

  • Ice anglers on Lake Simcoe are permitted to fish with up to two lines at any one time. Anglers may, for instance, use a tip-up for a stationary fishing presentation in one hole and be jigging in another. Keep in mind, however, that you must remain within 60 metres of any line that you are fishing with and that you need to keep a clear, unobstructed view of your lines at all times.

  • Any fish caught out of season, or which you do not wish to eat, must be released back into the lake. Live-release should be done quickly, with minimal handling of the fish.

  • Litter can be a major problem on Lake Simcoe each winter. Out on the open ice, it is often difficult to keep plastic bags and other garbage from blowing away. Ice anglers, snowmobilers, and others who utilize the frozen lake are required to control, collect, and properly dispose of (on shore) any garbage they may bring out on the ice. This helps to ensure the health of the fishery.

  • Live shiner minnows are a popular form of bait for Lake Simcoe ice anglers. Anglers are reminded to minimize the spread of exotic species by not dumping leftover minnows from their bait buckets back into the lake at the end of their fishing day.

Lake Simcoe is the sixth largest inland lake in the province covering 725 sq. km. (280 sq. miles). Anglers from across southern and central Ontario, as well as several northern U.S. states, regularly visit the lake during winter for its outstanding fishing. Lake Simcoe is often recognized as the ice fishing capital of North America, and it was the site of the World Ice Fishing Championships in 1992. Each year in late February, Simcoe is the site for the popular Canadian Ice Fishing Championships and in March for Perchin for MS (since - 2011).

Ice fishing is a great winter outdoor activity. Beginners and occasional ice anglers may wish to rent a heated hut, where all tackle and bait are supplied. Many ice hut operators also sell fishing licences for those over 18 and under 65. Once you become hooked on ice fishing and feel a little more adventurous, you may wish to invest in a hand ice auger and some basic tackle so that you and your family, or friends can venture out onto the ice. Whichever you decide, we are sure that Lake Simcoe would be an excellent choice for your next ice-fishing destination.

Written By:
Wil Wegman
Focus On Fishing
www.wilwegman.com

Last modified on Friday, 03 February 2017 08:48
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