Ice fishing on Sainte-Anne River kicks off on Boxing Day

Organizers say they're expecting about 100,000 ice fishers and spectators at the height of this season.

Organizers expecting about 100,000 ice fishers and spectators at the height of this season

At the height of the fishing season, some 450 fishing chalets will be installed on the Sainte-Anne River.  (Hadi Hassin/Radio-Canada)

Every year, more than 100,000 visitors flood the small village of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade in Quebec's Mauricie region, where 1,000,000 tomcod fish swim upstream from the St. Lawrence River estuary in time for the ice fishing season. 

The season kicks off Dec. 26 on the banks of the Sainte-Anne River, with about 400 shacks set up on the ice for people to fish from. 

"It's a village inside a village," said Steve Massicotte, president of the Sainte-Anne River Outfitters Association. He called the tomcod's journey to the region "unique in the world."

This year, Massicotte says outfitters are benefiting from ideal weather conditions for the fishing. The river froze early, on Nov. 16, and is thick at 50 centimetres. 

"Here in Sainte-Anne, we are in wintertime," he said, referring to the Montreal area's lack of snow this holiday period. 

"Mother Nature has been on our side."

Freshly fished tomcods. (Daniel Coulombe/Radio-Canada)

Last year, 60 millimetres of rain forced the association to remove the cabins it had already installed. But it still managed to set up 100 and open on Boxing Day. 

The ice fishing season lasts until Feb. 16 and is a boon to the region's economy, bringing in $6 million in revenue every year. 

This is Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade's 82nd ice fishing season. 

Like many of those who flock to the village in the winter, Fisher Francis Henri and his family have been coming back year after year. 

Ice fishers get ready in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade. (Hadi Hassin/Radio-Canada)

"Fishing for tomcod is a tradition for our family," said Francis Henri. "This year, I'm showing my wife and my little guy, since they don't know it." 

Massicotte says some shacks will catch up to 200 fish in a day. But it takes some skill. 

"The secret is to pay attention to the line. You know, some people don't look at it," he said, adding successful fishers change the bate at the end of their line often. 

The Henri and Viau families get together for a day of ice fishing on the Sainte-Anne River. (Daniel Coulombe/Radio-Canada)

Up to a million fish are caught every year, Massicotte said. 

The fish people don't keep and that cannot be released are given to a local soup kitchen. 

The entrance fee is $30 for adults during the holiday period and $25 on weekdays as of Jan. 6. Entrance is half price for children between the ages of six and 12, and free for children under five years old.

With files from Brian Lapuz