Better late than never? Local ice-fishing enthusiasts may be among the few who appreciate the cold snow that has allowed the Grand River Conservation Authority to open one of its three winter venues for anglers.
“Bit of a late start to the season but we are in good shape now with over 12 inches of ice,” said Belwood Lake superintendent Derek Strub. “Getting good reports of Pike and Walleye being caught and by the looks of the number of people coming out in less than comfortable conditions, they must be catching them.”
The two other locations that offer ice fishing operated by the GRCA, Shade’s Mills in Cambridge and Pinehurst Lake in Paris, are currently closed for the season.
Shade’s Mills cannot operate the program due to a 50,000-litre jet fuel spill on Highway 401 on January 13. The impact may have gone as far as Cambridge and is under investigation by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“We won’t offer ice fishing at Shade’s Mills until we can determine the impact of the fuel spill,” said GRCA spokesperson Lisa Stocco. “And we can’t do that right now – the ministry is still working on that, but it is ice-covered, so it makes it quite difficult for them to have a good understanding of the full impact.”
The third and final ice fishing location, Pinehurst Lake in Paris, is also closed for the season, effective January 25. Pinehurst is typically the last location to open for ice fishing out of all reservoirs for the season due to its more southern location.
“Ice fishing is not available at Pinehurst Lake at present due to insufficient ice thickness on the lake,” said GRCA communications coordinator Cam Linwood. “The park itself remains open for land-based activities like hiking.”
The timing of the opening of each program is unpredictable since it depends entirely on the climate.
“It’s weather-dependent,” said Stocco. “So it really depends on the weather because you need enough time and enough cold temperatures to build up the appropriate amount of ice to meet our safety standards before we can open.”
“Our winter park activities season is variable and changes from year-to-year,” added Linwood. “It is highly dependent upon factors such as snowfall, cold temperatures, weather systems, freeze/thaw events, etc.”
Last year in comparison, the sport was available for a very short season because of dryer weather. The GRCA needs to consider ice thickness and potential impact on the fish population before deciding to open for ice fishing. The organization seeks a specific type of ice before they open, according to Linwood.
“To open ice fishing, GRCA staff look for consistent ice thickness of at least six inches of ‘blue’ ice across the surface of the lake,” said Linwood. “Blue ice is usually clear and considered the strongest type of ice that forms on a lake. ‘White’ or ‘opaque’ ice is less strong and is generally required to be double the thickness of blue ice before it’s considered safe for ice fishing.”
Conditions at Belwood Lake are being monitored regularly to ensure the ice thickness meets safety requirements. If the ice becomes too thin, the program will be suspended until it is safe to resume.
“We’re looking for a certain amount of thickness to ensure safety,” said Stocco. “So we also take fish into consideration. So if the reservoir is low, we may not offer ice fishing as an example, because it’s not good for the fishery.
“In that case last year, we did delay for a period of time. We did eventually open when we were able to fill the reservoir and had a sufficient amount of ice.”
Pike, perch, smallmouth bass, and walleye are among the fish varieties in Belwood Lake, open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for land-based activities at 8282 Wellington County Road in Fergus.
Fishers should bundle up and come prepared with their own equipment, as the park is not selling bait or renting huts at this time.