It all comes down to the twitch.
Or the tickle or the jiggle or the strike or whatever you want to call it when the end of your fishing rod has that little jerk that lets you know something underwater is checking out your lure.
While the twitch is a universal part of all types of sport fishing, it is most eagerly awaited during ice fishing. Sitting in the middle of a frozen lake peering down a hole in the ice is not hard work in itself, but the preparation to get you to that point involves some effort. The reward for your efforts is the twitch.
If you just want to get out once to try some ice fishing, make it the weekend of February 15 – 17 when no licence is required. Family Fishing Weekend is a chance to fish free on any public water body in Alberta that has an open fishing season, excluding national parks.
All the normal regulations still apply, but you can save yourself the expense of the WIN card and fishing licence if it’s the only time you’re going fishing this winter.
Remember, in Alberta you are only allowed to be fishing with two lines on any ice-covered water and you must be within 30 meters of those lines at all times. V
That effort includes bundling up for a day outside, finding a suitable lake or pond, hauling all your gear out onto the middle of the ice (usually by foot through deep snow) and setting up a mini campsite with chairs and coolers. If you’re really into the sport, your setup might include a tent and underwater sonar camera. Once the site is set up you need a hole, so bring the chainsaw or hand or power auger to bore through the ice and give you access to the watery world under the frozen surface.
Making sure you’re on ice that is thick enough to support your group and gear may seem like common sense, but double check with locals about the safety of any ice. Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officer Andy Nestorovich says a couple of vehicles have gone into Wabamun Lake in the past few weeks as people ignore the danger and drive onto the ice. “Your biggest concern should always be the ice depth,” Nestorovich emphasizes.
The common rule of thumb is stay off the ice if it is less than four inches deep (10 cm). At four to six inches foot travel is OK; at six to 10 inches snowmobiles and ATVs should be safe and at 12 inches or more vehicle travel can be considered.
With summer angling there is generally more to do as you cast out your line and reel it in or troll around in a boat dragging your hook behind, but with ice fishing there is little more you can do than wait. There is no water lapping against the shore or side of the boat, teaming with life to distract you. And that’s why the twitch is such a big deal.
It’s also an experience that can’t be duplicated. A large body of frozen water is a very still and desolate place. The landscape of ice and snow is broken up only by the shoreline and to spend time in the middle of it can be calming and introspective. That can end fairly quickly after a few of your refreshments start warming you up and the stories get longer and louder.
There are plenty of spots to ice fish close to Edmonton, but to get the full experience you need to find somewhere that at least feels a bit remote. The Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area north of Stony Plain has a good combination of easy access and lets you feel like you’re at least a bit off the beaten path. Six main lakes and several more ponds are scattered throughout the park’s 480 acres. The lakes are separated by rolling, forested hills that make each one quite private. It has been a quality trout fishing area in both summer and winter for many years.
Chickakoo Lake is the biggest of the park’s lakes and the most desirable to ice fish on as it experiences less winter kill than the other lakes. Winter kill occurs when there is severe oxygen depletion in the water the fish are living in, which is caused by the decomposition of plant material found in the water. As a result, the best ice fishing is usually early or late in the winter when there is more open water compared to mid-winter when oxygen levels are lowest. Unfortunately, the past few months have not been good for fishing on Chickakoo, according to bloggers on the province’s best-known ice-fishing website: icefishalberta.com Check it out to find the latest reports from Chickakoo and all the best ice fishing areas in Alberta.
To find Chickakoo, go west on the Highway 16 from Edmonton to the Stony Plain overpass and exit onto Secondary Highway 779 heading north. Turn west onto Township Road 534 and follow the signs to Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area. It’s in the same area the Swiss Valley ski hill was located when it was in operation back in the 1980s. From the west side of Edmonton it should take you about 30 minutes to the Chickakoo parking lot. The area also has 14 kilometers of cross-country skiing trails with set track so there’s more to do that just wait for the twitch.