Petrie Island Marina is unusually quiet this winter.
A “fishing village” has come to life on the island’s bay in Ottawa’s east end, every winter for the past two decades. Last year, there were more than a hundred shacks on the ice, according to Allan MacIntyre, the president of the Petrie Island Ice Fishermen’s Association (PIIFA).
But as of this week, a little more than a dozen shacks are on the ice.
“It’s very muddy out there,” MacIntyre said. “It’s too hard with all the snow … we can’t tow [the huts].”
He explained that water is also accumulating under a large amount of snow that has accumulated on the ice in recent months.
Unsettled ice conditions have put MacIntyre and his fellow anglers about three weeks behind schedule for the regular ice fishing season, he says.
He said the ice must be at least 11 inches thick to go ice fishing. The PIIFA website shows that the ice thickness has been consistently below this number during the month of January.
The website noted that the ice was about 11 inches thick Sunday, but it is “poor ice with a heavy snow cover.”
Waiting for ice conditions to be favorable for fishing has left the community “anxious to get out on the ice,” MacIntyre told CBC’s Ottawa Morning.
A little more than a dozen ice fishing shacks are on the ice in Petrie Island Bay, where there were more than 100 last winter. These here wait on the near coast for cooler temperatures. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
He added that several regular anglers have decided to stop waiting for better ice conditions and instead have flown to warmer climates to spend time there.
An “ugly mix” of snow and rain
According to Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips, this winter is the third mildest the city has seen in more than a century.
Phillips explained that “cold days,” with temperatures of -20C or lower, are necessary for ice to form, but the city has yet to see those temperatures this winter. In fact, he noted, the coldest it has been so far was on January 16, when temperatures dropped to about -18C.
With warmer-than-usual temperatures like this, Phillips said it’s hard to grow ice that’s safe to venture on.
“Because of the warm temperatures, you’ve actually gained snow and then lost it and regained it,” he explained.
Phillips said the large amounts of rain and snow this winter, combined with unseasonably warm weather, has resulted in a repeated pattern of “freeze and thaw and freeze,” producing an “ugly mix” of condensation.
“It produces a surface coating that is very, very difficult to work with.”
Phillips added that ice fishermen must clear the “contaminated surface” themselves to practice the sport, leaving them with an onerous task to accomplish.
‘Saved by the bell’
Still, Phillips said, he expects things to start looking up in the next two weeks for those looking to go ice fishing on Petrie Island.
He noted that temperatures are set to drop from -11 to -15 C in the afternoon in the last week of January, making for some of the coldest afternoons this winter. In the same week, he said night temperatures will drop from -18 to -22 ºC.
Phillips added that Thursday will be the coldest day this winter, an indication of falling temperatures over the next month.
That means the ice fishing season may be shorter this year, he said, “but it won’t be a closed one.”
MacIntyre says he’s hopeful fellow anglers can get out on the ice for the annual ice fishing derby on Feb. 18. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
The drop in temperatures may come just in time for the 15th annual PIIFA Ice Fishing Derby, which will be held Feb. 18 at Petrie Island, according to Phillips.
“I think the bell will save them,” he said.
MacIntyre said he expects this one to be the case as planning for the contest is well underway.
A Facebook post by PIIFA said: “We all need to be patient and wait until the massive snowfall has cleared and the ice road is solid enough to take out shacks.”
He concluded, “Safety always comes first on the ice!”