Weather | Ice fishing takes on water

Mild temperatures make life difficult for ice fishing. Rarely has a season been so short, which causes significant financial losses for certain communities where this traditional sport is practiced.

Every year, around 1000 cabins are erected on the ice of the Baie des Ha! Ha!, in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, where the largest saltwater ice fishing site in the world is located. Equipped with streets and parking lots for cars, two miniature and ephemeral villages attract visitors from the four corners of the province to hunt for groundfish.

However, due to a lack of sufficient ice cover this year, approximately 12 inches, the City of Saguenay announced, “with a heavy heart,” last week that it would not be possible to install them.

“Safety is the main criterion that was taken into account when making this choice. The latest ice measurements and the mild weather forecast for the coming days make it impossible to foresee an opening date,” we read in a press release issued by the City.

Volunteer for 24 years and president of the board of directors of the organization responsible for managing these small villages, Contact Nature, Dany Tremblay confirms that this is a first. “I don’t remember seeing that,” he said.

A memory confirmed by historian Russel-Aurore Bouchard, who, through her research, established the beginning of ice fishing as a “social phenomenon” in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean in the early 1980s.

“It screams a little in La Baie, there are people who have invested in their businesses, there is a whole circuit,” she adds, confirming that the news took many citizens keen on this sport by surprise and who pay, year after year, to reserve a site for their cabins.

Financial losses

“It’s as if you were announcing to someone who has been going to the same campsite every year for 20 years, the day they fall on vacation, that they can’t this year,” summarizes the owner of L’ Adventure of the Black Bear, Marc-Olivier Noël.

For this outfitter who rents 16 sites at Anse-à-Benjamin each year, the news had the effect of a cold shower. Informed a few days before the cancellation that the ice cover would be sufficient, he explained that he had all his cabins towed to the edge of the bay, at a cost of $2,300.

An amount that he risks not seeing again, just like the thousands of dollars in lost reservations or the money spent urgently to equip himself with portable or canvas cabins, ice fishing still being permitted from installations temporary and at the risk of the fishermen.

And Marc-Olivier Noël is not the only one to suffer from this cancellation, several businesses in La Baie, the neighboring municipality, taking advantage each year of the passage of numerous visitors from the four corners of the province to hunt for groundfish, explains Dany Tremblay.

“Put 1000 cabins, people stay longer, they will spend whole weeks there. They need more food, there are visitors, a cabin can accommodate five or six people, the outfitters who have around forty cabins for rent, that’s income,” he lists.

A shortened season

In Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, in Mauricie, where there is another legendary ice fishing site, the one where we catch small fish from the channels, the season is well underway.

Except that it started three weeks late, the little ice accumulated at the start of the season having been washed away by the mild weather before the holiday season. “We started on January 15, it will be half a season for us this year,” confirms the spokesperson for the Association of Outfitters of the Sainte-Anne River, Steeve Massicotte.


Fishing huts in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, on January 27

After two difficult seasons (2022-2023 having also been shortened), he adds that he is looking forward to “having a slightly more normal winter”. Because the financial consequences of such a delay are significant, he said.

“We cut it in two. The economic benefits for Mauricie, instead of being $6 million, are $3 million. For outfitters, we cover our costs. We save the furniture a little,” explains Steeve Massicotte.

Like every year, the fishing season for small channel fish will end on Sunday, less than a month after it began.


Fish harvested in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade on January 27

Others, however, have had better luck so far. Another important ice fishing village, that of Gatineau, located in the suburbs of the city of the same name, does not seem to have suffered unduly from the vagaries of the weather.

The fact that the approximately 200 cabins that make it up are erected on the ice of a bay, on the edge of the Ottawa River, where “there is no current, no wave”, could explain its success, believes its owner, Brian Nixon.

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