By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

The Columbia Valley’s Whiteswan Lake has been named among the top ice fishing destinations in Canada.

The lofty designation came early this month from FishingBooker, the world’s largest online marketplace for booking fishing charters. FishingBooker, described as “the Airbnb of fishing charters”, chose seven lakes from across Canada as the crème-de-la-crème of frozen fishing in this northern nation. Whiteswan Lake, nestled right in the Rockies, about half an hour southeast of Canal Flats, was the only lake in B.C. or Alberta to make the cut. The large lake is the centrepiece of Whiteswan Provincial Park. It has long been a favoured ice fishing spot for locals and visitors alike (so favoured indeed, that the Pioneer has had multiple Whiteswan ice fishing cover shots in the past decade), but this is the first time international acclaim of this magnitude has been bestowed on the lake.

The Pioneer attempted to contact FishingBooker to get the scoop on exactly how it came to choose Whiteswan for its list, but was unable to reach anybody for comment prior to press deadline.

FishingBooker did, however, provide some of its rationale for its selections when it announced the list, and for Whiteswan it turns out the lack of previous international ice fishing accolades — and the subsequent lack of crowds there — make the lake more attractive (at least to FishingBooker) as a destination. That and the mind-blowing setting.

“Whiteswan Lake is one of Canada’s best-kept ice fishing secrets. The lake is surrounded by high, rocky mountain peaks. Coming out on the frozen water at this time of year will feel like walking straight into a winter dream,” said FishingBooker in its announcement. “There’s another thing here that will make you feel like you’re dreaming, and that’s world-class Rainbow trout ice fishing. Whiteswan Lake is very accessible, and it’s a great spot for both beginners and seasoned anglers.”

Local outdoorsman Kent Kebe was not surprised at Whiteswan Lake making the list. When the Pioneer talked with Kebe on Thursday, Dec. 17, he was getting ready to head out to Whiteswan the following Saturday for his first ice fishing excursion of the winter.

“The setting is wonderful. Even the drive in to the lake is pretty stunning,” Kebe told the Pioneer. “The lake is large, so the anglers are spread out and there are plenty of different places on the lake to go. So even though it is busy, it never feels crowded. And the fishing is excellent…The fish are good eating at Whiteswan as well, because the lake is big and cold. That does make a difference.”

In contrast to the many permanent ice shacks on Lake Windermere, ice fishers at Whiteswan usually come just for the day, outlined Kebe. They come early in the morning, drill holes, set up their tents, fish for the day and then leave.

Kebe is, by his own admission, fairly new to ice fishing. He always fly fished in the summer, but has been drawn into ice fishing in the last few years. The sport offers a unique appeal, he said.

“It’s that anticipation of watching your rod. You never know when you’re going to get a bite, and you have to act quickly when you do,” he said.

Typically ice fishing means hanging out with friends — which is one of the best things about it, said Kebe — but this year will be different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the associated social distancing protocols.

“So everybody will be driving in their own vehicles, and each person will be setting up their own tent, spaced apart from everybody else. But in many respects, ice-fishing is a good sport during a pandemic, because it’s pretty easy for everybody to keep their space from each other on the lakes,” he said.

Aside from Whiteswan Lake, there are plenty of other lakes in the Columbia Valley that make for great ice fishing, said Kebe, adding that “so far this year, access has been great.”

Kebe emphasized that anybody heading out to Whiteswan Lake needs to read the regulations and get a fishing licence. Because Whiteswan is popular, the conservation officer service is often out at the lake, checking up to ensure anglers are following the rules.

So what are the six other ice-fishing destinations in Canada’s top seven? They are: Lake of the Woods, the sylvan lake-rock-tree dreamscape straddling the Ontario-Minnesota-Manitoba border in a warren of winding waterways; majestic Kathleen Lake surrounded by soaring open peaks in Kluane National Park in the Yukon; massive and moody Lake Superior (the world’s largest lake) cradled by rugged rocky headlands in northwestern Ontario; sandy beach-lined Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba; expansive Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories’s boreal forest; and Lake Diefenbaker, a shallow, humanmade reservoir, chock full of fish, in the open, winter wind-whipped prairie of Saskatchewan.