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Beginner’s Luck: Ice Fishing in the Canadian Rockies

By Keili Bartlett

It’s Saturday morning, but we’re up before the sun. It’s tempting to sleep in, but a weekend spent outside in the Canadian Rockies is nearly impossible to pass up, so I find myself bundling up for cold winter weather.

My roommate Devaan has been raving for weeks about his newest hobby, and his excitement is contagious. Last summer it was fly fishing. This winter, it’s evolved to keep up with the change of seasons: we’re going ice fishing.

Fishing huts are set up on an early morning in Spray Lakes. Photo by: Banff Lake Louise Tourism

Fishing huts are set up on an early morning in Spray Lakes. Photo by: Banff Lake Louise Tourism

Devaan’s enthusiasm has convinced three of us to join him. The rest of us have never fished on ice before, so Devaan will be acting as our faux-guide. Before we leave our house in Banff, we’re already dreaming of eating fresh trout for dinner.

After picking up coffee at Whitebark Café, we’re off to an early start with the hope that we can beat the crowds to Spray Lakes. Luckily, there aren’t many cars parked along the road when we arrive. Nearby cross-country ski trails are popular during the winter, but our early departure has paid off. We gather the gear we will need, double-check that we have our fishing licenses, and walk single-file to the lake. The snow between our car and the lake’s edge is deep enough that snowshoes would’ve been handy.

Extra layers became useful after sitting on the ice for several hours. Photo by: Steve Henderson

Don’t underestimate the cold! We made sure to pack much-needed extra layers. Photo by: Steve Henderson

The ice is thick and, where it’s not covered by snow, it’s the glacier-blue colour that lakes in the Canadian Rockies are famous for. Photographers often come here to capture the frozen formations and methane bubbles that are trapped below the surface until spring.

Photo by: Devaan Ingraham

People come to the frozen lakes to skate, take pictures and, of course, ice fish.

Devaan picks a spot a few hundred feet from shore and starts hand-drilling holes. Once he’s through the ice, we help set up the bright red tent. It’ll shield us from the windy conditions the Spray Lakes are known for, so we can fish for longer, and we hope the colour will stand out enough that the wind skiers won’t crash into us.

Inside the tent, Devaan teaches us how to bait our hooks, reel out to the bottom where the fish hang out, and slowly jiggle our bait back up. I hold the miniature pole and dutifully reel out and in like I’m shown, trying to tempt the fish below to bite. We’ve been constantly moving since we woke up, but now we wait for the action to start. It turns out fishing requires a lot of patience.

Devaan's ice fishing expertise comes from a fishing trip he did as a videographer with Banff Lake Lousie Tourism. Check out his video here. Photo by: Devaan Ingraham

Devaan has been ice fishing before, with Banff Fishing Guides. Check out his video of that trip here. Photo by: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism 

After we’ve had a few nibbles, but no bites, Devaan can tell his novice group is close to becoming disenchanted with his beloved sport. We’ve been sitting in the cold for at least an hour, with nothing to show for it. He ventures out of the tent to drill new holes over what he thinks is a deeper part of the lake, then we pack up the gear and relocate.

As soon as we’ve finished setting up the tent and duck inside, the wind starts to blow with a vengeance. One side of our tent collapses. As Devaan fixes it by tying it down with a line, I peek out at him through the window. The wind has picked up the loose snow, and it swirls around him like a blizzard. In his many layers, it’s not hard to picture him as an explorer on Everest. It’s cold, and it’s beautiful.

A bright and early winter morning reveals views worth getting out of bed for. Photo by: Steve Henderson

A bright and early winter morning reveals views worth getting out of bed for. Photo by: Steve Henderson

Here, it doesn’t take long to feel the thrilling tug of the line. Molly, squealing and reeling, pulls up the first catch of the day. Not long after, I jump up and reel in my line as fast as I can. Out of the tunnel-like hole, my fish appears, and I’m proud to bag the biggest catch of the day. After we catch a third – one for each of us newbies – we decide to call it a day. We’ve spent close to four hours on the lake, and I’m looking forward to warming my fingers and toes inside the car.

They may not look too appetizing in this photo, but our catch was delicious. Photo by: Keili Bartlett

They may not look too appetizing in this photo, but our catch was delicious. Photo by: Keili Bartlett

Back home, we air out the tent as Devaan preps the fish. We decided to pan-fry our day’s catch with some vegetables, and Devaan throws in a fish he caught the weekend before so that we can have one each.

The fish sizzle in a pan of butter as we cook them two at a time. Photo by: Devaan Ingraham

The fish sizzle in a pan of butter as we cook them two at a time.

Once they’re ready, he teaches us how to pull the bones out, and we dig into our feast. The fish is the freshest you can get in the Rockies, and we congratulate each other for a successful first ice fishing expedition.

Fish served fresh, pan-fried with a side of veggies. Photo by: Devaan Ingraham

Bon appétit! Fresh pan-fried fish served with a side of veggies. Photo by: Devaan Ingraham

When I tell my dad – a Newfoundlander who loves to catch and eat fish – that I caught the biggest fish of the day, he sends me a family recipe for preparing trout. I can’t wait to try it on our next catch.

Want to try ice fishing in the Canadian Rockies for yourself? You can book a guided trip and find gear at Banff Fishing GuidesBanff Fishing UnlimitedUltimate West Flyfishing in Cranbrook, and Golden Gillie in Golden, BC. And don’t forget your fishing licenses!

>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.

>> Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at whererockies and tag your Canadian Rockies posts and photos with #whererockies

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