ORILLIA, ONT. -- Ice fishing huts popped up on Collingwood Harbour, Lake Couchiching, and Lake Simcoe Saturday as thousands of people set out to try their luck on a free family fishing weekend.

Jamie Morrison was undeterred by frigid temperatures. But he's still trying to coax two of his three children out.

"I want them to enjoy the outdoors even more," Morrison said.

Canadian residents between the ages of 18 and 65 usually require a fishing licence. Four times a year, the province waives the requirement for licences and outdoors cards to promote the activity. Conservation limits still apply.

Graeme Cameron is an experienced fisherman who has seen the popularity of recreational fishing explode over the last nine months.

"My buddies are asking to go fishing more, even though they don't fish," Cameron said. "Everybody wants to get out and do something."

John Baldry sees people of all ages coming in for bait and tackle at Rick's Happi Hooka in Collingwood.

"COVID has really pushed people into looking for something different that they can do as a family. Fishing is one of those things."

The influx of newcomers to fishing and the presence of people who would typically have gone south in the winter has some anglers concerned about the increased pressure on fish stocks. Many release what they catch. But photos and videos of a successful day shared on social media also motivate more people to get into it.

Remi Trombly says it's been a shot in the arm for the industry. He's dealing with some equipment shortages at his Orillia sporting goods store.