A pandemic project started by two local entrepreneurs has made ice fishing on Gull Lake much more than a bare-bones, sitting-on-a-bucket experience.
Two solar-heated huts built by Hugo Painchaud and Clayton Seguin, of S&P Fishing of Lacombe County, each have bluetooth speakers and twin TV screens — including one that shows underwater action. Far from the typical particleboard ice fishing sheds that dot lakes in the winter, these tastefully decorated huts contain a fireplace, couches, loft beds, and cooking and washroom facilities.
“I thought it was pretty glamorous,” said Mary MacArthur, of Camrose, who rented the larger hut with three of her female friends at the end of February.
The novice ice anglers uncovered pre-drilled holes in the vinyl-floored cabin and cast their lines into the lake while watching for fish to swim by on real-time televised underwater video footage.
“It felt like we were sitting in our living room,” MacArthur recalled, with a chuckle.
So far, about half the clients who have rented the two high-end ice huts owned by Painchaud and Seguin on Gull Lake are women and families. Painchaud said the gear-inclusive accommodations are booked up for every Friday through Sunday to the end of the season on March 31. (All ice huts must be removed from lakes by April 1, under provincial regulations).
MacArthur said she and her friends wanted to try ice fishing as a pandemic diversion, but “we didn’t want to buy all the gear, all the rods and lines, and then sit out on the ice for 10 hours on a Canadian Tire bucket.”
It was easy to commit to an ice-fishing/wine night “when all you have to do is bring sleeping bags and food,” she added. A fishing license is also needed.
Painchaud is a keen ice angler who doesn’t mind sitting on a bucket. But he said he built the first upscale 10-by-12-foot hut in eight days in early 2021 because he wanted to bring his two young sons, ages two and four, ice fishing with him.
Painchaud couldn’t imagine his kids enjoying the cold or the tedium for very long. He, therefore, added solar panels as well as a backup generator to the hut. He and Seguin also decorated the interior with rustic wood and furnishings, including two TV screens — one shows cartoons and movies and the second shows the underwater scenery caught by a camera lowered down the hole in the ice.
Painchaud said whenever his kids see a fish approaching on the TV screen, they know to jiggle their lines.
The larger hut (10 by 16 feet) was built last December with rental income in mind. The two partners, who both work in law enforcement, plan to build a few more lux fishing huts. Painchaud hopes it can be a way of generating some retirement income.
Despite these comfortable accommodations, it hasn’t been an easy winter for ice fishing on Gull Lake: “It’s slower than last year,” admitted Painchaud.
The natural water body contains burbot, pike, walleye, perch and white fish. But there must be a lot to eat as the fish haven’t been eager to feed on the worms or sardines anglers have dropped down into the water. “There are tons of fish, but they don’t want to bite,” Painchaud added.
MacArthur’s party caught one burbot — a second fish wriggled off the line before they could pull it up. The burbot was also later released back to the lake since it’s spawning season.
Painchaud believes most people go ice fishing as a get-away, not because they expect to eat their catch (Many of the fish varieties in Gull Lake are either catch-and-release species or have strict catch limits anyway).
“We’ve enjoyed doing this, and the response has been really good,” he added.