by Rachel Babichuck

Fishing is a popular Canadian pastime in the summer heat because it is accessible and fairly simple. For many recreational fishers, the idea of ice fishing has probably crossed their minds, but may seem too far out of reach.

I first got into ice fishing as a teenager, when my partner introduced me to the activity. At first I was very turned off by it. Why would I want to sit outside and freeze all day? After I reeled in my first catch, I was hooked. With warm drinks, good company, and the thrill of the catch, sitting in a tent on a foot of ice was suddenly my favourite winter activity.

For Edmonton-area residents, there are many simple ice fishing getaways whether you have a car or not. Remember, before heading out to purchase your Alberta Sportfishing License ($28.00) online.

. With this simple set of guidelines, ice fishing will soon be your go-to winter pastime.

Drawing by Timothy Knepp – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Image Library, Public Domain

What to wear:

Alberta winters can be brutal and cold. When you’re spending all day outside on the ice it’s important to dress warm and be prepared. First, start with a warm base layer. I like to wear merino wool long-johns and a long sleeve shirt. On top of that, I wear sweatpants and a fleece sweater. For the extremely cold days, I double up on top with a down-filled jacket (my favourite is from Costco).

The outermost layer is very important in wicking away water and wind. For this, I like to wear my waterproof ski jacket and snowpants. Next, is footwear. In my winter boots I like to wear thick wool socks paired with “HotHands” brand foot warmers. I use this brand’s hand warmers inside of my gloves as well. The most important part of keeping your body temperature up is a hat — any toque or beanie will do!

Yellow Perch

For the beginner:

For the people interested in trying out ice fishing, but who don’t want to break the bank or don’t have a method of transportation, the North Saskatchewan River is your spot! At any place on this large river, you can try your hand at angling for walleye, sauger, and pike.

Because the North Saskatchewan River has quite a strong current year round, there are many places throughout the city with open water. With this open water, fishing in the winter is more accessible as you can fish right from the shore with no need for expensive equipment. All you need to succeed is a generic fishing rod, line,  hooks, and some bait.

The Alberta Fishing Regulations state that bait fishing here is O.K. – just be sure to use maggots or other small fish. If you are lucky to catch a walleye or sauger, remember that you cannot keep these fish. For the beginners looking to keep fish from the NSR, try for burbot or goldeye.

Another accessible spot for North Edmonton or St. Albert locals is the Sturgeon River. This time of year, the Sturgeon still has some open water spots which makes winter fishing from the shore very easy. You can take public transit to Riel and walk to the boat launch on the Sturgeon. From there you can begin to fish for small pike, perch, and walleye.

Wallyeye : painting by Timothy Knepp

For the Intermediate to advanced:

So you’ve got access to a truck, auger, and a tent. Wabamun Lake is located 50 minutes south of Edmonton. Upon arrival at the boat launch, you can drive your truck (or AWD vehicle) onto the ice, but not before checking the thickness!

To check the thickness of the ice, park at the launch and walk a couple of hundred feet onto the ice with your auger and drill a hole. If the ice is 12-15 inches thick, you’re good to go. To be extra safe, get out of your car and drill a new hole after every couple hundred feet of driving.

Once you’ve found a spot for your tent, it’s time to fish for pike, perch, walleye and burbot. Here you’re allowed to use maggots or minnows for bait which you can buy from outdoors stores or my secret spot: Superstore. Fishing at Wabamun Lake is always fun, but be cautious that you’re not allowed to keep any fish here.


For the plus-one:

Maybe you’re trying to impress a new friend or spending time with an old one who likes winter fishing, but ice fishing is just not for you. Here’s what to do as an ice-fishing plus one:

The first and most important thing to do is to make sure you are still prepared for the cold and wet by dressing appropriately. Next, find an old milk jug and cut the top off. With this, you can construct your own igloo by filling with snow and ice, then stacking the pieces.

Not into playing in the snow? No worries. Bring some warm drinks (or cold ones), music, and some dry wood. Now you can build a fire to tend to while sipping yummy drinks and singing along to your favourite tunes!

For more information on where to fish, visit