Ice fishing is one of the quintessential winter activities in Ontario, but also a bit of a mystery to those of us who have never experienced an ice hut community on a frozen lake.
What kind of person is compelled to venture out onto a cold, windy lake to huddle in a hut with a fishing rod?
You may be surprised to find out that not all ice anglers fit the traditional image of a rugged and seasoned-looking guy decked out in overalls and red plaid jacket.
Meet 31-year-old Shannon Lane. She is an award-winning angler who you can find most days (at least this winter) at her small ice hut on Lake Couchiching. She will be jigging for her favourite catch of pike or perch, and wearing a designer outfit by DSG Outerwear, one of her sponsors.
Lane, who grew up near Lake Simcoe in Pefferlaw, was introduced to fishing by her dad when she was just six years old. It has since become something that has not only made her passionate about being outdoors, but is inspiring others, especially girls and women, to become confident anglers.
“When I’m outdoors fishing, whether on a frozen lake or from my kayak, I don’t think of anything negative and don’t have any stress; it’s like therapy to me,” explained Lane. “My friends are used to me sharing my favourite slogan – the cure is outdoors.”
Lane shares her passion through posts on social media – she has more than 4,300 followers on Instagram – which is also where she has met some like-minded anglers and attracted the attention of sponsors.
“I love to encourage other women to get into fishing. I have a lot of friends who really like the idea of fishing, but maybe don’t have the confidence to do it on their own. I help them source the right equipment and share tips on how to get out there on their own.”
“Women are realizing that fishing is not just for boys and men,” added Lane. “I think it helps to see others and makes you think – if she can do it, I can do it! It definitely helped me when I was first getting back into fishing.”
Although she enjoyed fishing with her family when she was young, it wasn’t until Lane moved to the Orillia area about six years ago that she became such an avid angler. Living close to the lake with easy access to the water, Lane started fishing from her paddle board and kayak.
“I caught my first pike from my kayak and ever since I’ve been addicted.”
Now Lane fishes year round but says kayak fishing is her No. 1 passion.
“It’s so nice kayaking here (on Lake Couchiching), you can see everything in the clear water. Plus I get exercise, don’t have to worry about a motor, and it gives me the freedom to do this all by myself.”
As much as she loves the solo aspect of fishing, Lane has a close group of friends who share her passion.
In fact, Lane recently returned from a girls’ weekend with a couple of friends. After doing some research about different “back lakes” and what kind of fish are stocked where, the trio headed to a lake three hours north in search of walleye.
The exact location was purposely not shared – “a secret location,” explained Lane. They each brought their own equipment including a portable hut, auger and fishing gear and ventured out on their own in search of a big catch.
“It was a good weekend,” said Lane. “We fished all day and into the evening too, as walleye feed a lot at night. They have big glowing eyes. We all made good catches, each on our own, with our own fishing hole, with no boys helping us."
Confident to fish on her own, Lane also enjoys fishing with her boyfriend, Daryl.
“He is my biggest supporter when it comes to fishing – even though I’m the one who teaches him how to become a better angler, and not the other way around!”
To become a better angler, Lane says you need to understand the whole world of fish and fish movement.
“Ice fishing is more than just drilling a hole and dropping a line,” says Lane. “You have to learn about what the fish are doing and why – get into the fish’s head. This is what makes you a better angler.”
Lane says it’s also important to be aware of conservation and how to support healthy fish populations.
“It’s always good to practise selective harvesting, instead of keeping every fish you catch. The bigger ones should go back so they can produce more offspring to support the lakes and fish populations," she said. "With perch, the larger (over 14 inches) ones will be the best breeders.”
Her fascination with fish and the environments in which they live has inspired Lane to pursue a different career. She originally studied policing at Georgian College, but realized the profession really wasn’t for her and decided to go back to school.
She enrolled in ecosystems management at Fleming College and is now hoping to land a position in the field. Although she currently (except for the pandemic) works in surveillance at Casino Rama, she would love to work as a fisheries technician, which involves water monitoring, fish collections and studies and stocking fish.
“That would be my favourite job, but it’s tough to get a good paying job in the wildlife field. But I’m always on the lookout, and for now, am volunteering to fill the void.”
Among other projects, Lane volunteers at the Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge in Pefferlaw.
Lane has certainly been learning the right skills for the job.
“What I love most about fishing is what it teaches you. Fishing has taught me so much – I always explain it as the three Ps – patience, persistence and perspective.”
Lane admits she puts a lot of work into being a successful angler. “Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, but that just makes you want to get out there more. And being out there is what it’s really all about for me. Although catching a big fish is definitely a bonus.”