Slush, snow delay ice fishing season at Petrie Island

Just over a dozen ice fishing huts are on the ice at the Bay off Petrie Island, where over a 100 stood last winter. These ones here wait on the shore nearby for colder temperatures.  (Hallie Cotnam/CBC - image credit)
Just over a dozen ice fishing huts are on the ice at the Bay off Petrie Island, where over a 100 stood last winter. These ones here wait on the shore nearby for colder temperatures. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC - image credit)

The Petrie Island marina is unusually quiet this winter.

A "fishing village" usually comes to life at the bay off the island in Ottawa's east-end, every winter for the last two decades. Last year, there were more than a hundred huts on the ice, according to Allan Macintyre, the president of the Petrie Island Ice Fisherman's Association (PIIFA).

But as of this week, just over a dozen huts stand on the ice.

"It's very slushy to get out there," Macintyre said. "It's too difficult with all the snow...we can't tow [the huts]."

He explained that water is also collecting underneath a large amount of snow that has piled atop the ice in the recent months.

The unstable ice conditions have put Macintyre and his fellow fishers about three weeks behind schedule for the usual ice fishing season, he says.

He said the ice needs to be at a thickness of at least 11 inches to go ice fishing. PIIFA's website shows that the thickness of the ice has consistently been under this number for the month of January.

The website noted the ice was around 11 inches thick on Sunday, but it's "poor ice with heavy snow cover."

Waiting for the ice conditions to be conducive to fishing has left the community "anxious to get out onto the ice," Macintyre told CBC's Ottawa Morning.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

He added that a number of regular fishers have decided to stop waiting for better ice conditions and have instead flown out to warmer climes to spend their time there.

An 'ugly mixture' of snow and rain

According to Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips, this winter is the third-mildest the city has seen in over a century.

Phillips explained that "cold days", with temperatures at or below –20 C, are necessary for the formation of ice — but the city has not yet seen such temperatures this winter. In fact, he noted, the coldest it has been so far was on Jan. 16, when temperatures dropped to about –18 C.

With warmer-than-usual temperatures like this, Phillips said it's hard to grow ice that's safe to venture out onto.

"Because of the warm temperatures, you've actually gained snow and then you've lost it and gained it back," he explained.

WATCH | Petrie Island's ice fishing season so far:

Phillips said the large amounts of rain and snow this winter, in combination with unusually warm weather have resulted in a repeated pattern of "freezing and thawing and refreezing", producing an "ugly mixture" of condensation.

"It produces a surface covering that is very, very difficult to work through."

Phillips added that ice fishers have to clear the "foul surface" by themselves in order to pursue the sport, leaving them with an onerous task to carry out.

'Saved by the bell'

Still, Phillips said, he expects that things will begin to look up in the next two weeks for those wanting to go ice-fishing at Petrie Island.

He noted that temperatures are set to drop to –11 to –15 C in the afternoon, in the last week of January, resulting in some of the coldest afternoons of this winter. In the same week, he said nighttime temperatures are set to drop to -18 to -22 C.

Phillips added that Thursday is set to be the coldest day so far this winter — an indication of the drop in temperatures to come over the next month.

This means that the ice fishing season may be shorter this year, he said, "but it won't be a shutout."

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

The drop in temperatures may come just in time for PIIFA's 15th annual ice fishing derby, to be held on Feb. 18 at Petrie Island, according to Phillips.

"I think they're going to be saved by the bell," he said.

Macintyre said he's hopeful this will be the case, as planning for the contest is in full-swing.

A Facebook post made by PIIFA, read, "We all need to be patient and wait until the massive snowfall has been cleared and the ice-road is once again solid enough to bring huts out."

It concluded, "Safety always comes first on the ice!"