(MCT) — BOISE, Idaho — If ever there was a good winter for ice fishing, this is it. Temperatures settled below freezing for weeks and put a thick layer of ice on many area lakes and reservoirs.
Old hands are hitting their usual haunts, and many new ice anglers are taking advantage of the prime conditions and good fishing.
In Southwest and Central Idaho, ice fishing is usually limited to a few places with Lake Cascade, Horsethief Reservoir and Magic Reservoir among the favorites.
Thanks to a prolonged cold snap in Southwest Idaho, C.J. Strike Reservoir and Lake Lowell have joined the usual ice fishing hot spots and produced some good fishing.
Luke Spaete, of Boise, is one of the old hands at ice fishing. He moved to Idaho four years ago from Michigan and was impressed by what he found on the ice — to be exact, good ice fishing, and not many other anglers.
“Perch here are ginormous, and in good numbers,” he said.
Trout fishing also impressed him.
“You can catch your limit if you target them,” he said.
It’s not like ice fishing is a secret in Idaho, but it does seem like more people are discovering it and taking advantage of what it offers.
Ice fishing is a fun way to fish and a good social activity, too. There’s room for lots of people on the ice, and you can make it as simple as you want.
A basic ice fishing package is pretty inexpensive. The costliest item is an auger, which can be bought for less than $100 for a hand auger, and about three times that for a gas-powered auger.
Or you can go whole hog and load a trailer full of ice fishing gear like a tent, power auger, heater, grill, and pull it behind a snowmobile or four wheeler.
Whichever you choose, ice fishing is a great way to spend a winter day to catch a few fish and catch up with your buddies.
And you will be surprised how comfortable the ice is on a clear, sunny day. It’s like a day at the beach during winter.
DRESS FOR THE OCCASION
No secret, you want to dress warmly in layers. Start with warm, waterproof boots. You will be standing on ice and possibly snow and slush. Insulated rubber boots are often warmer than leather because they don’t get saturated.
From there, just layer up and be able to cover all bare skin if needed. If one part of you feels cold, your whole body may feel cold.
Bring an extra pair of gloves because you will be dealing with bait, fish and other things that may get your gloves wet. Another option is to use a fingerless gloves as liners and wear heavier gloves over them. Hand warmers are cheap insurance if your hands get wet and cold.
Wear a warm hat that covers your ears and a neck gaiter, balaclava, Buff or hooded sweatshirt.
Don’t forget your sunglasses. If it’s a sunny day, you will need them.
ICE FISHING BASICS
The beauty of ice fishing is its simplicity — drill a hole, drop your line, and hopefully, catch a fish.
You don’t even need a fishing rod. Some people prefer tip-ups, which are simple contraptions that tip a flag up when a fish hits.
Your standard trout fishing rod will also work, but ice fishing rod and reel combos are inexpensive and worth the money.
When fishing is good, anyone can catch fish, which makes ice fishing a great trip for kids because they don’t have to cast and the tackle is as basic as a hook, weight and bait.
But ice fishing can also be surprisingly challenging at times, which separates the casual ice anglers from the serious ones.
MORE EFFORT MEANS MORE FISH
Remember ice fishing is like any other type of fishing. Those who learn the fine points typically outfish those who drill, drop and hope.
Trout tend to roam under the ice, while perch tend to congregate in certain areas and stay put. If you don’t catch something, drill more holes and try elsewhere.
If you are confident that you are over fish, you may decide to wait until the fish start biting, but moving is usually a better option.
Anything that makes you more efficient is probably going to help you catch fish. It can be as simple as an inexpensive rod holder that helps you detect subtle bites, or as fancy as an underwater video camera or fish finder.
ICE FISHING SAFETY
Stick to popular ice fishing spots and you should be fine, but never ignore the dangers of going out on the ice. According to Idaho Fish and Game, ice is generally safe for walking when it is 3 to 4 inches thick of clear ice.
If you are venturing out on a snowmobile or ATV, you want 8 to 10 inches of clear, solid ice.
It’s typically safer to haul your gear onto the ice in a sled, which also makes it easier.
Conditions can change fairly fast when the weather warms, especially around docks, dams, inlets or outlets, springs, etc.
When reservoirs start refilling, it can also lift the ice pack away from the shoreline.
ICE FISHING RULES
Ice anglers can fish up to five lines in the water, and no, a two-pole permit doesn’t not allow you to use 10.
Holes drilled in the ice can be no larger than 10 inches.
All other limits and rules apply. Check fishing rules booklet or go to fishandgame.idaho.gov.
ICE FISHING TIPS:
— Look where other anglers are congregating and start there. Keep a reasonable distance from others, but don’t be shy about joining in.
— Drill holes reasonably close to each other. You have to pay pretty close attention to your gear to catch fish, and if your holes are too far apart, you can’t watch them closely or react fast enough when a fish hits.
— Use a secure rod holder. You’d be surprised how many rods are pulled through the ice hole when a fish hits them. You can also get rod holders that help detect subtle strikes.
— Bring something to sit on, preferably something padded, which provides insulation and keeps you from getting chilled.
— Bring lots of snacks and beverages. Cooking is fun, too, so bring backpacking stove to heat a hot lunch or snacks. Or you can bring the camp stove and go nuts. Brauts on the grill are a big hit.
— If you have a big, elaborate ice fishing set up, you may want to test the fishing before you set everything up.
— You may want to put ice fishing line on your reel. Regular line can get stiff when cold and kink. You don’t have to replace the whole spool. You can splice on about 50 feet and call it good.