A Fishing Boat Charter or Lake Cruise on Lake Ontario

Sunset on Lake Ontario
Sunset on Lake Ontario

After living for 50 years near Lake Ontario, I finally discovered that it is possible to go out on it, even if you don’t own a boat. What’s more, you can go out on it with a fishing charter and not fish. While some would consider that crazy talk, I don’t like to fish, I have a tendency to get seasick, and cool lake breezes just leave me cold.

But what I discovered after my husband won a six-hour boat cruise on Lake Ontario was that cruising around Lake Ontario on a yacht can be fun, and, while I still don’t want to fish, I can understand the allure for those who do, especially when we hooked what looked like the biggest fish of the derby less than an hour before we were to end our cruise. With a potential $48,000 in prizes up for grabs, it appeared we had some beginners luck on our side.

Why Charter a Boat?

There are many reasons for chartering a boat and mostly these would depend on the group planning the trip. According to Ernie Izzi, owner of Izzi Charters in Port Credit Harbour Marina in Ontario, the groups that book his charters are mostly business owners doing team building or bringing sales teams or clients out for the day.

He also does birthday parties, couples retreats, and schedules cruises around special events such as the Canada Day fireworks display at nearby Ontario Place, and the annual Great Ontario Salmon Derby. Lake Ontario also provides an optimal view of the Air Show during the Canadian National Exhibition.

However, if all you want to do is cruise around a lake without doing anything at all, a charter can accommodate that as well. It is possible to get packages of varying duration that include such things as Yoga on one of the Toronto Islands, for those who don’t want to fish or spend all their time on the boat. Often, you can have meals catered on the boat, or you can bring your own picnic or potluck to keep costs down.

The end result is a spectacular day that you will never forget. Or it will be, as long as you plan it carefully.

What You Need to Know When Chartering a Boat

According to Izzi, boats that take passengers out onto the lake for a fee are automatically considered commercial boats here in Ontario. He says, “There are regulations, as far as taking people out who have paid you to take them out and captain the boat for them. To be operating a commercial vessel, you need a captain’s license, which is called a Master Limited. You would need a few other courses.”

The first thing you should verify, then, is that the charter you are looking at adheres to all government regulations. You can confirm this by checking with the operator what certifications they have and visiting the relevant government website to confirm the requirements. In Canada, this information would be found on the Transport Canada website, where they provide a Passenger Vessels FAQ page for people who are planning to book a charter.

Bad Weather and Big Fish

Find out the cancellation policy in case you must cancel, or if the operator cancels the trip as a result of inclement weather conditions. Most operators will charge a cancellation fee if you back out, but won’t charge you if they cancel. Izzi says that in the latter instance, he will try to reschedule before he gives up and cancels the trip.

If you are interested in trying to win a fishing derby, consult with the operator on the best time to take out the boat. According to Izzi, if you are going to go after the big one, then the best time to leave is at 4:00 AM. An alternative is to stay out late. This is because the big fish tend to come out when it’s dark. Be sure to communicate with your operator so that he/she knows the exact purpose of your trip and can help optimize it for you.

Life Vests, Safety Briefings and Seasickness

The operator of your boat should take you through a safety briefing, and alert you to the locations of life vests and safety equipment. Izzi took us through such a briefing at the very start of our trip, before we were even out of the harbour. The operator should also prepare an ice chest to store any fish caught and kept. According to Izzi, the charter should have lots of ice.Make sure they use a cooler. Fish can turn bad in ten minutes.

For those who know they are prone to seasickness, Izzi recommends taking something like Gravol at least an hour before getting on board. Once you are out there and feeling ill, it is too late to do anything about it. There are natural remedies available for help with seasickness as well. Consult your natural health care practitioner on what would work best for you.

Izzi keeps seasickness bracelets on board his boat but says it is much better to avoid seasickness in the first place than try to deal with it after you start feeling sick. He recommends making sure that you do not show up for your cruise with an empty stomach, nor one that is too full, as he has seen people get sick under both conditions. In my case, that seemed to work, because I didn’t take any preventative measures other than making sure my stomach wasn’t too full or too empty and I was fine.

Chartered Boats and Fishing Derbies

Chartering a boat is a wonderful way to spend a sunny day, even for reluctant fisher-people. You can do many things on board that don’t involve fishing. However, the prize for the largest fish caught during the derby might just be enough to lure you into the sport. On our trip, it was reported to be $48,000 in prizes that included a Toyota truck.

If you decide to participate, make sure you know what you need to do to enter. Not only should you read the rules and regulations for your particular derby, but you also need to know if you have to purchase tickets separately from your charter. Izzi Charters automatically provides passengers with an entry ticket into the fishing derby with the price of the charter, but not all of the charters do this. Don’t assume.

If you happen to catch the big one, then you get the prize (or prizes), as long as you have an entry ticket. It is up to you if you want to give any reward to your captain and crew, though I hope you do. Also, determine ahead of time with your fellow passengers how you will divide up the winnings. Do only those who fish share in the prize? Do only those who help land that particular fish share in the prize? You wouldn’t want to lose friendships over a fish, no matter how many thousands of dollars might be involved.

What to Bring with You Onto the Boat

UV rays from the sun reflect off the water and you need to protect your skin and your eyes from over-exposure to the sun. Bring hats, cover-ups, and sunscreens. Izzi’s boat has a cover, as well as a cabin, where passengers can get out of the sun, but not all boats have such facilities.

Speaking of facilities, you might want to verify what type of washroom facility is available on that boat. On our tour, there was a bathroom with a flush toilet and I was grateful. Not all boats have that, but Izzi Charters has a 45-foot yacht with every comfort.

If you are bringing your own food, find out if you need to bring your own plates, cups, utensils and so forth. Our boat had a full kitchen, which included a refrigerator and everything we needed for our picnic, though we brought most of what we would need ourselves. Thermoses of coffee and hot water for tea are always nice to have, especially if it’s cool on the water that day. If you want to bring alcohol, discuss this with the operator, as liquor laws vary. In Ontario, commercial vessels need a liquor license to serve alcohol.

If you are planning to take home any fish that you catch, bring a cooler with ice to preserve them during the trip home. Izzi cleans and fillets the fish for his passengers, though not all operators will do that task.

Is it Safe to Eat Sport Fish?

Pollution reaches the waters of even the most remote lakes and Lake Ontario is anything but remote. While many of the fish caught in Lake Ontario are edible, it is important for anyone considering eating fish caught from any lake to make sure that it is safe to eat. This is especially critical for pregnant women and young children.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment website offers an interactive guide to eating Ontario sport fish that is updated regularly. It is also available in electronic format, or you can order copies to be delivered through the mail using an online form. Check with your government’s environmental site to find information that pertains to your own region before consuming any fish you catch.

The Big One that Got Away

As fate would have it, our cruise was on the last day of the salmon derby. As the sun started to go down, one of our hooks snagged a big fish – the biggest we had seen that day. Ernie Izzi looked at it and said it was probably a Chinook salmon and, incidentally, a contender for the biggest fish of the derby. We had less than an hour before our cruise was to end. Izzi thought it would take longer than that to land it. We settled in for the battle between man and fish.

One of the guys in our group was doing whatever you’re supposed to do when you have a gigantic fish on your line, while Izzi coached him, and the rest of us cheered him on and mentally claimed $48,000 in prizes … but it wasn’t to be. The fish managed to extricate himself from the hook and get away. It was over – for this year, anyway.

But we’re looking forward to doing it all again next year, and probably for many more years to come. The experience was exhilarating and fun, and something that everyone should try at least once. Just be sure to prepare for it, and choose a professional charter operator who adheres to all government regulations for your comfort and safety.


Image: Sunset on Lake Ontario Courtesy of Bob Tobin

Izzi Charters (Accessed September 24, 2011).

Ministry of Ontario Guide to Eating Sport Fish (Accessed September 24, 2011).

Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute advice from your physician or health-care professional. Before beginning any health or diet program, consult your physician.