As winter descends upon us and lakes begin to freeze, the anticipation of the ice fishing season sets in like the prospect of presents wakes children early on Christmas morning. Ice fishing is a winter sport that has gained immense popularity in the past 10 years. Drilling a hole through the frozen surface of a body of water and dropping a line with a baited hook into the frigid waters below may sound intimidating, but it is a great way to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the winter season.
Ice fishing has often been perceived as a male-dominated activity. However, that’s changing rapidly as more women are discovering its joys and proving their worth in frigid temperatures.
As someone who loves ice fishing, I find myself spending the majority of my winters on frozen lakes in pursuit of pike, walleye and trout, regardless of the weather conditions. It’s a thrilling experience to bait a hook and wait patiently for a bite in the frigid, crystal-clear water before skillfully reeling in a fish through a smooth hole that has been drilled in the ice.
In the past few years, I’ve received many inquiries from women seeking guidance on how to fish, and I am excited to share my knowledge and passion with others. That’s why I knew I needed to create a welcoming environment where women could come together and enjoy the excitement of ice fishing.
A Ladies’ First
In the winter of 2022, I orchestrated and led the very first Ladies’ Ice Fishing Event in Canada. It was meticulously designed to offer a warm (pun intended) and inclusive setting where all attendees could freely share their questions and fears and feel empowered to attempt something new.
My top priority was to guarantee that every participant, no matter their skill level, had an enjoyable and safe experience. I was thrilled about the chance to cultivate an extraordinary community of women who shared a passion for the outdoors and I eagerly anticipated witnessing the amazing memories we would create as a team.
The response to the event was overwhelming. All 50 spots filled within just one week. It was incredible to see so many women come together on the ice to learn new skills, build a sisterhood, and have fun. With the success of the first event, I decided to increase the number of participants and volunteers for the 2nd Annual Ladies’ Ice Fishing Event. That took place in March of this year on Lac La Biche Lake.
Organizing this event takes much effort and planning from everyone involved. A 40-by-40-foot outfitters’ tent is the central hub. There are 12 heated ice-fishing tents where volunteers showcase their gear and expertise. Sponsors like Cenovus Energy, Panattoni Development, Len Thompson, Calnash Trucking, The Coverall Shop, Jiffy Ice Drills, Zebco, Cabela’s and many others make it all possible.
As participants gather around the ice-fishing tents, a sense of excitement and anticipation fills the air. Knowledgeable female volunteers, including three conservation officers, warmly welcome everyone and begin guiding them through the basics of ice fishing. With patience and encouragement, they teach participants how to auger a hole, bait a hook, read a fish finder and reel in their first catch. As the participants begin to feel more confident in their newfound skills, a sense of pride and empowerment radiates from within them.
Most of the participants have never fished before, which only adds to the thrill of the event. It’s an opportunity to embrace fears, take on a new challenge and meet other like-minded women. But this event isn’t just about learning to fish. It is about the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with participating in an all-ladies event. There is something special about being surrounded by other women who are all there for the same reason. It’s a feeling of solidarity that comes from knowing that you are not alone in your quest to try something new: a type of sisterhood.
A Shared Meal
Back on that blue-sky, sunny day in March, after savoring a delicious, barbequed meal of hamburgers, potato salad and fresh vegetables, the women put their newly acquired skills to use and enjoyed an afternoon of fishing on the ice. Despite having numerous lines jigging baits in the icy cold water, the beginning of the afternoon was uneventful, with no bites reported. At around 2 p.m. though, the pike finally began to bite.
Helped by the volunteers and cheered on by fellow participants, a woman named Dani triumphantly landed the first northern pike of the day. Despite the pike’s spirited aversion to giving up the bait, Dani persisted. Much like mastering the art of the yo-yo, fishing for northern pike takes time, effort, co-ordination and skill to keep the fish interested and hooked. Dani’s dedication and patience paid off; the pike gave in. With a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, we carefully removed the hook and posed for a quick snapshot with the fish. The event puts the focus on conservation to ensure that future generations of anglers may experience the thrill of the catch. There’s also a zero-limit catch on Lac La Biche Lake for pike, so this fish was gently released back into the water to continue her journey.
The next angler to be rewarded was Denise, who had driven three hours to participate in the event. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to learn were apparent and she was determined to land a fish. When the flag went up, signaling there was a fish on the tip-up, Denise ran through the deep snow and knelt over the hole. With some guidance, she managed to set the hook. I watched as her hands shook and her voice trembled with emotion while seeking further instructions. After a short battle of retrieving line and letting the pike run, she succeeded in reeling in her very first fish. Overcome with tears and pride, she held up her impressive catch for the camera: a beautiful, big pike.
“This is an experience of a lifetime,” Denise exclaimed, turning to me. Her words deeply touched my heart, affirming why I had organized this event in the first place.
For several hours, the northern pike feeding frenzy continued, with numerous women catching their first-ever fish. It was an unforgettable moment, and the thrill was undeniably intense. Witnessing someone reel in that first fish and seeing their unbridled excitement and emotions as they celebrate their victory is an unparalleled feeling.
Renee was a true example of this. From the moment she felt the tug on her line, you could see the rush of adrenaline energizing her. This big pike wasn’t making it easy, but together Renee and I waited patiently for this aggressive pike to make the next move so we could be ready to make ours. The pike kept taking the line out, and then Renee would pull it back, only to have this challenging pike position itself horizontally at the bottom of the hole.
There was nothing we could do but wait until this predator was ready to run again. So, we waited. Finally, the pike ran, taking line with her. Renee allowed the line to slip from her hands but was ready to retrieve it when the pike stopped. Renee’s patience paid off; she brought the pike’s giant flat head and elongated body through the hole. The other participants had gathered while the anticipation was building. With trembling hands, Renee happily held her accomplishment as the camera captured this spectacular moment. Upon releasing the big northern pike, a grateful Renee said that for her, this was “a pike of a lifetime.”
It’s the Connections
The Ladies’ Ice Fishing Event is a wonderful opportunity for women to connect and build lasting friendships. While ice fishing is the primary activity, the real value of the event lies in the connections made during the workshops.
The sense of camaraderie and support among participants is evident as they share tips, stories and laughs throughout the day. The event provides a supportive and encouraging environment for women to explore their passion for ice fishing and connect with like-minded individuals. The sense of community and belonging that is fostered during the weekend lasts long after the fishing is done.
As this year’s event came to a close, participants looked forward to meeting again on the ice in 2024. The Ladies’ Ice Fishing Event is truly a special opportunity for women to network, learn and grow, both as anglers and as individuals.