Originally published by National Post, July 6, 2016

Fishing has always been associated with a trip to cottage country.

But in recent years, anglers are finding ways to cast a line closer to home. The benefits of avoiding highway traffic or booking time off work, while still getting a chance to land an impressive fish are many — and urban Canadians are “catching” on.

Novice and experienced anglers are waking up at the crack of dawn to fish for bass, trout, walleye and other local species before heading into the office for a day of work. What’s the draw? Aside from the thrill of reeling in a big one, fishing offers a variety of health benefits. Just 10 minutes in rush hour traffic on the 401 is enough evidence of what daily city stress is like. Fishing offers a reprieve from this chaos.

“Studies have shown that simply being outdoors can improve overall mood and energy levels,” says Sarah McMichael, media correspondent for Keep Canada Fishing, an awareness initiative dedicated to promoting the importance of recreational fishing to Canadians and the economy. “So when an opportunity for serenity is just minutes from home, it’s an easy decision to make.”

According to Fishing In Your Backyard: An Urban Recreational Fisheries Strategy for the Lake Ontario Northwest Waterfront, a document released by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, there are 1.26 million licensed anglers in Ontario, the majority of whom reside within the 416 and 905 area codes. While many of these anglers enjoy time on the water in a more rural setting, local fishing is both easy and accessible. With over 70 fishing access points, both along Lake Ontario and on smaller bodies of water throughout the GTA, there are plenty of opportunities to go fishing without much travel. The MNRF has created Fish ON-Line to help Ontario residents find accessible places to fish: http://www.web2.mnr.gov.on.ca/fish_online

In fact, one of Toronto’s most serene fishing opportunities is just minutes from downtown: Tommy Thompson Park. Nicknamed “Toronto’s Urban Wilderness,” the park is maintained by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and represents some of the largest existing natural habitats in the city. Ongoing habitat enhancements have made it possible for a variety of fish species to thrive. In addition to common species like largemouth bass and pumpkinseed, visitors can also fish for northern pike and lake trout. The TRCA has also recently opened a new access point for panfish.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has recognized the benefits of attracting anglers to urban shores. First and foremost, anglers contribute to their communities economically. In Canada, recreational fishing is an $8 billion a year industry. But most importantly, anglers develop a deep appreciation for the environments they fish and are some of Ontario’s most dedicated conservationists.

The MNRF supports a variety of urban fishing opportunities by partnering with local agencies through their Learn to Fish Program. This fun and interactive two-hour program combines practical lessons and hands-on experience for novice anglers throughout the summer. The Learn to Fish program will be celebrating Canada’s National Fishing Week and Ontario Family Fishing Week — a licence-free fishing period in Ontario — on July 10 at Tommy Thompson Park. They will be offering two Learn to Fish sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. for participants aged six and up.

To learn more about Learn to Fish or find other locations and upcoming events, visithttps://www.ontario.ca/page/learn-fish.