You probably guessed that the tomcod ice fishing phenomenon is not just recent. Documents from the first French pioneers have shown the presence of the ‘‘winter fish’’ in Trois-Rivières and in the St. Lawrence River. In fact, people have been fishing there since 1600. Every cloud has a silver lining. When the tomcod left the Saint-Maurice River, which was polluted because of industrialization, it adopted the Sainte-Anne River as a safe place to spawn. When did the move occur? Who knows…? The tomcod was only discovered in 1938 by Eugène Maihot when he was cutting some ice blocks for his family’s icebox. It wasn’t long before fishing shacks were installed on the river. Even if they were quite small and basic, they kept the fishermen safe from the cold and the snow. Little by little, the good news spread throughout the region. In the 40s, visitors would come by train to enjoy this Christmas manna. The outfitters provided the transfer from the train station with their dog sleighs.
The first carnival was organized in the 50s and the event’s popularity has increased over the years throughout the whole province. At the peak of the fishing seasons, there were more than 1200 fishing shelters on the river. In the late 80s, the activity began to suffer from the effects of commercial fishing. The number of fish caught decreased and several outfitters had to shut down their businesses. At the worst of the crisis, only 230 fishing shelters could be numbered on the site. The hard times ended when a moratorium forbidding commercial exploitation was enforced in 1992.
Nowadays, tomcod fishing in Sainte-Anne is flourishing. The school of fish is only exploited for tourism and recreational activities. The old shacks have become comfortable fishing shelters with heat and electricity. A whole range of different outdoor activities are offered and the clientele mainly consists of families. The originality and the singularity of the event have attracted more and more European visitors. In 2009 alone, the fishing village (500 shelters) attracted more than 130 000 fishing lovers to Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade.