Two years ago it was the intense cold. Last year it was arctic winds. Whatever challenges the weather comes up with, ice fishers are undaunted. 

For the Cold Lake Ice Fishing Tournament organized by Age Friendly Cold Lake (AFCL), it’s a bonus to host an outdoor winter fundraiser that the weather can’t spoil. When the weather is intense, the participants are in tents.

The third annual tournament runs February 17 to 19. Alberta Environment permitted up to 400 participants, and the spots sold out within a week of registration opening in November. 

It’s AFCL’s most important annual fundraiser, and it’s popular with ice fishing enthusasts from all over Western Canada.

“We have some awesome prizes again, including $5,000 for top fish,” said AFCL’s Cathy Aust. 

“This year, we did do things a little bit differently. Instead of a cash prize for largest fish of the day in the adult and the youth categories, we’ve got some pretty awesome prizes for those categories so we could allow up to fifth place [for the weekend-long tournament] to receive some money this year.”

The prizes are a major draw, but it’s the fishing action that attracts the anglers. Cold Lake is one of Canada’s best ice-fishing lakes for several species, and especially for lake trout. 

This attracts anglers year-round, but the tournament offers a particularly fun time. The spinoffs for the local economy are an added bonus.

“It’s amazing for Cold Lake and Bonnyville,” Aust said. “People are filling up with propane and buying supplies and food. It helps our economy.”

She said a lowball estimate last year showed a quarter million dollars added to the local economy on the tournament weekend.

And it introduces people form all over Alberta to the charms of the City of Cold Lake. One group from Fort McMurray in 2021 said they spent their non-fishing hours house-hunting. And one of last year’s participants actually found a new home here.

“We had a fellow whose company is in Calgary and he came up here for the tournament with his team, his workers. He fell in love with Cold Lake and he moved here, he moved his roofing business here,” Aust said. 

“He’s started an ice shanty business here, so he got a couple of trailers that he modified and renovated and he’s got those up for rent now. His workers are here, he’s here with his family. He moved here.”

If you want to join in the spirit of the tournament but missed the registration, or if you don’t even fish, you can still help the cause by buying a 50/50 ticket. Aust said AFCL can only raise so much money through registrations because they are limited to 400 participants. They look to sponsorships and the 50/50 draw to maximize the fundraising value.

Tickets are available online (see the Cold Lake Ice Fishing Tournament ‘s Facebook page) or at the Cold Lake Marina office on the tournament weekend.

Second Annual Cold Lake Ice Fishing Tournament. FILE PHOTO