Ice fishing grows in popularity in the corridor

The sport takes centre stage during Winterfest next weekend

The family would find a lake to themselves.

They would drill some holes in the ice, light up a wiener roast and get settled in for a day of ice fishing.

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“To me that’s what ice fishing is all about, comradery,” Brad Knowles said, reminiscing on his childhood Christmases spent on ponds throughout the Sea to Sky corridor. “Ice fishing was a huge part of me being hooked on fishing.”

Knowles grew up in Pemberton. His family owns and still runs Spud Valley Sporting Goods Ltd. As a teenager, the shop gave him access to the latest recreational equipment, which helped build his love of the outdoors.

While Knowles has fond memories of the “good old days” fishe-wise, nowadays are even better. The size and stock of the fish in the corridor’s lakes has increased since Knowles was a teenager hitting the ponds with his father, Ivan, or hiking through the backcountry with his fishing rod with his best friend’s father, Jack Ronawae.

“You can pretty much go to any lake and catch fish now,” he said, noting there are 10 pound plus trout to be had. “There are really big trout in our area.”

Ice fishing season in the corridor traditionally kicks off around Dec. 15. Some of the more popular venues include Lost and Alpha lakes in Whistler and Mosquito and Echo lakes in Pemberton. Three species of trout call these watering holes home — rainbow, cutthroat and bull.

“It is typically fairly fast-paced fishing,” Knowles said. “We are never really sitting still.”

Fishing — all kinds of fishing — has Knowles hooked. For five year he worked as an angling guide, during which time he also starred in his own show Elite Fishing, which was seen by 100,000 people a week on Whistler Cable. Today he owns the fish guiding company Pemberton Fish Finder. In the winter his guides take people on approximately three tours a day ice fishing around the corridor. Ice fishing has recently seen a bump in popularity, Knowles said, adding his website, which outlines the activity and provides up-to-date fishing information, sees 150,000 page users a month.

“It is not something you can do anywhere in the world,” he noted. “It is one of those bucket list things.”

Knowles has drilled holes through the ice with people from across the planet. One of his memorable clients was Norway’s famous survivor man, Les Stroud. When you fish with someone that serious about the sport, there’s bound to be a bit of competition, Knowles half-heartedly joked, noting as a host and a guide he felt a bit of pressure to end the day with the “biggest fish” tale.

“It sometimes gets challenging,” he said.

While he often doesn’t speak the same language as his clients, fishing transcends those barriers, he said. Everyone understands the thrill of feeling a bite and being surrounded by nature, those involved with the sport grew a deep appreciation for the environment, he said, adding the majority of the fish they catch they release back into the lakes.

“There’s a lot more to fishing than just fish,” Knowles said.

Ice fishing is taking a prominent spot in the Pemberton Winterfest at One Mile Lake from Friday, Jan. 22 to Sunday, Jan. 24. There will be public ice fishing on Saturday, from 10 a.m. into the afternoon. The ice holes and equipment will be provided by Pemberton Fish Finder.  

On Sunday an ice fishing derby will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The free event is great for kids, Knowles said, noting the sport teaches them a lesson in patience and respect for nature. He encourages everyone to come out and give it a try. There’s a cash prize of $500.

“I still think a lot of people don’t realize how good the fishing is in the corridor.”

For more information on Pemberton Winterfest visit www.pembertonwinterfest.com.

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