Family Day offers up a weekend of free fishing

By MPP Toby Barrett

Family Day will be the first of the free fishing weekends of the year – followed by Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Called Family Fishing Weekend, Canadian residents without a fishing license can fish anywhere in Ontario from Feb. 16 to 18. The fishing weekend is intended to encourage people who have not previously had the experience to give it a try, as well as to encourage families to go ice fishing together. The two new events on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day build upon Family Fishing Week, which is June 29 to July 7 this year.

Cold temperatures late in January and in early February created solid ice on Long Point Bay – with reports of great catches of perch and pike, and an occasional pickerel. Even if the fishing is off, the camaraderie and experience of being on Long Point Bay in the winter is one people won’t soon forget.

During these free fishing weekends, new anglers should pay attention to the regulations as far as size limits and sanctuaries. Anglers without a license must adhere to conservation license catch limits. Outside of these weekends, anyone between 18 and 64 needs to have an outdoors card and current fishing license.

As part of this initiative, free fishing tackle loans are available across the province through the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Tackle Share program. Included in the loaner sites are Backus, Deer Creek and Byng Island Conservation Areas and Long Point, Selkirk and Rock Point Provincial Parks. In addition, Caledonia Bait and Tackle is a loaner site. Do note, some of these locations are not open in February.

Family Fishing Weekends can prove important for promoting fishing. The sport is a major contributor to our provincial economy.  Ontario has 250,000 lakes and recreational angling is worth $2.2 billion a year. Anglers are also important to conservation. The money from license sales goes into the Special Purpose Account to fund fish and wildlife programs. Groups like the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Trout Unlimited and local fish and game clubs do important habitat enhancement, research and conservation work related to fisheries. The reintroduction of the Atlantic salmon into Lake Ontario is one example of many success stories.

To encourage fishing, and as part of its red tape reduction program, Ontario recently froze fishing license fees and eliminated the $2 service fee. A new program to thank veterans and current Canadian Armed Forces members with license-free fishing is also now in place.

In a similar vein, Ontario has cancelled a planned increase to hunting licenses and also eliminated that $2 service fee. Combined, the changes will put $4.3 million back in the pockets of the province’s anglers and hunters.

Hunting is important to Haldimand and Norfolk, and our rich hunting heritage. Waterfowling pops to mind as symbolic of our area’s hunting heritage. Over many years, private duck hunting clubs have preserved the marshes around Long Point Bay and the Grand River.

On a somewhat related note, some of my work as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry this winter has been a bait fishing industry listening tour. I have visited Kenora, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Kingston, and Barrie with an upcoming meeting in London.

Hope to see you ice fishing on the Family Day weekend.