Man ice fishes on Windy lake

Licence-free Family Fishing Weekend

At the first sign of frost, we often pack away our rods and reels, letting our fishing drive drift into daydreams until spring.

But what if we could reel in the dream catch during the sunniest and briskest days of the year?

With licence-free Family Fishing Weekend around the corner, we’re sharing our top tips about the season’s hottest — or should we say — coldest pastime — ice fishing!

Wait — what’s Family Fishing Weekend?

Every year the Ontario Government designates Family Day weekend as a licence-free fishing period. There’s no better time to introduce a friend or family member to fishing!


There’s even a colouring contest for kids!

In 2020, Family Fishing Weekend runs February 15-17.

Check the Ontario Family Fishing Events website for angling opportunities near you!

Ready to head out? Here are some tips to ensure a safe, successful day of fishing fun:

Stay safe

Especially during a warm winter, exercise extreme caution before heading out on the ice.

Ice should be at least 15-20 cm thick, depending on your group’s size. Check the thickness regularly with a spud bar or auger as you move out onto the lake.

Spud and cleats on the ice

Ice formed over flowing water, springs, pressure cracks, old ice holes or around the mouths of rivers and streams is much weaker.

Be sure to check local ice conditions – just because the lake by your house is frozen solid doesn’t mean every lake will be. Local hut operators are a good source of information.

Look at the colour of the ice. woman ice fishingClear blue ice is the strongest, while white/opaque ice is much weaker. Stay away from ice that looks honeycombed – especially during spring or during a thaw.

Get more ice safety tips here.

Always dress appropriately

Wear breathable clothing & dress in layers.

Remember: your temperature will go up as you search for a spot to set up and start drilling, but you’ll cool down while waiting for a bite.

Fancy a shore lunch?

Check out the Guide to Eating Ontario Fish to identify the types and amounts of fish that are safe to eat:

Stay legal

Carry your licence

Unless it’s Family Fishing Weekend, you’ll need a valid fishing licence. Make sure you’ve renewed your Outdoors Card for the year before you hit the ice.

Fish within your limits and know the rules

During the licence-free weekend, unlicensed anglers must still fish under the Conservation limits. Take a copy of the Recreational Fishing and Regulations Summary to make sure you’re following catch limits and fishing rules.

Setting up the ice fishing shelter

Register your ice hut

Click here to register online and find out which Fisheries Management Zones require registration. Once registered, make sure your hut’s registration number is visible.

Pack right

Ice fishing Silent LakeSome key gear you’ll need:

  • sharp hand auger
  • ice skimmer (to remove slush)
  • lures/bait specific to your desired species
  • ice rod/reel

Along with your fishing gear, you should also carry a whistle, waterproof matches and have a personal flotation device.

Click here for a detailed list of everything you need to be aware of before hitting the ice!

Dig out the long johns, fill your thermos with hot chocolate and head out on the ice for Family Fishing Weekend!