The cold hard facts about ice fishing rules and regs

Do you dream of skimmers, tip-ups, pop-ups and giant pike or walleye?  Do you measure the days of winter by the increasing thickness of ice on your favourite lakes? Or are you just excited to try out your new ice fishing rod for the first time?

Imagine setting your line in with little to no one else around, in middle of nature!  Ontario Parks are able to offer you amazing and seemingly endless ice fishing opportunities.   No matter where you decided to take your auger, it is important to check you have all your fishing and safety equipment, you have let others know where you are and you dress in layers to keep warm.  Another imperative step is making sure you know your local fishing regulations!  As parks are specially protected areas, so are the fish.

Following these regulations, and understanding why they exist, is an important part of maxing out your time on the ice, while ensuring you are helping maintain a sustainable ice fishing practice.

For example, did you know?

  • You can only fish if you have a licence. There are more than 1,200 license issuer across Ontario or you can purchase your licence online through the MNRF website
  • You can only use one line (instead of the usual two for ice fishing) on some lakes. Fish caught from two lines may not release as easily, which increases their risk of dying after release
  • You can only use live bait on some lakes and not others due to the risk of invasive species spreading. There are 48 different bait species that are approved to use as bait in Ontario
  • You must dispose of your leftover bait in a certain way to prevent it from spreading these invasive species that can harm fish and their habitats. Conservation officers will be checking bait buckets this winter
  • If releasing fish, unhook them quickly and return them to the water as soon as possible to maximize their chances of survival.

“We have regulations in place to prevent the spread of invasive species, to protect critical parts of fish populations, to manage the sustainable harvest and enhance our fishery management. Catching, cooking and eating the fish you catch is a very important part of the fishing experience so these regulations help ensure folks can fish in an enjoyable and responsible way.  There are a number of reasons why we have specific ice fishing regulations on any given water body,” says Matthew Garvin, Fisheries Program Biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

So what does this mean to you, the avid ice fisher who loves the smell of walleye in the morning?

It means taking the time to learn the rules and regs for your favourite lakes (the Ontario Fishing Regulations Summary is a great resource, which you can download at or pick up where you buy your license) and understanding the science behind them.

You can also visit to learn which fish are in which water bodies across the province, what the regulations are, where the province is stocking fish and how to get to your favourite fishing destinations.

Conservation, sustainability and protecting the fishery for future generations are behind these rules and regulations and their enforcement.

Want to give ice fishing a try or learn more about these regulations?

Why not visit your nearest ice fishing destination during the Ontario Family Fishing Weekend February 14 to 16 for a weekend of fun-filled ice fishing. No licences are required that weekend so you can head out right away and enjoy the fun.

Also, always remember ice safety!  Ice does not freeze evenly and always tell someone where you are fishing and when you are due back.  For more ice safety tips go to the website

Happy angling!