If you’re craving something different to do on the weekend, why not give ice fishing a try? In addition to fresh air, exercise and family fun, benefits include enough trout and perch to load up the freezer.
For those new to winter fishing, getting started is not difficult but requires specialized equipment. And of course, don’t forget to stop by the nearest sporting goods store and pick up a Washington or Idaho fishing license if you don’t already have one.
Many lakes in the Spokane/NE Washington/N. Idaho area are popular for anglers this time of year. Chris Donley, District II fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, says Sprague Lake in particular has seen “explosive growth” in rainbow trout stocked last spring.
“They were 3 inches in May. Now they’re 24 inches…big fat trout,” he notes.
Donley recommends Fourth of July Lake, Waitts Lake, Hog Canyon, Eloika, and Silver. He says the first three are trout lakes, while perch, bass and crappie can be caught at Eloika, and blue gill, perch and “a few trout” are good bets at Silver.
Al Liere, who writes on fishing and hunting for The Spokesman-Review, adds Newman Lake east of Spokane is good for pan fish, while trout and perch can be found at Bear Lake north of Spokane. For bait, Liere recommends a small Swedish pimple, preferably green in color, with maggots or a piece of worm.
In N. Idaho, Jim Fredericks of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, lists Hauser Lake (perch, trout), Fernan Lake (pike) and Cocollala Lake (perch, trout) as spots for historically good fishing.
North of Spokane in Okanogan County, Fish and Wildlife Region 6 fish biologist Bob Jateff reports Patterson Lake (perch, rainbows) and Davis Lake (rainbows), as well as Rat Lake, Big Green Lake and Little Green Lake (rainbows) should be profitable.
Of course there’s Sidley Lake, near the town of Molson, home to the Fifth Annual Ice Fishing Festival. Scheduled for Feb. 14, the event features a tournament with prizes for the biggest single fish, heaviest combined weight of two fish, and even the smallest fish caught (a 3.8 ouncer in 2007) Other activities include a pancake breakfast, arts and crafts vendors in the historic Molson Grange building and dog sled demonstrations.
“There’s plenty of room to spread out on the ice and get the perfect spot,” said Robin Stice of the Eden Valley Guest Ranch, one of the competition organizers. Once holes are drilled and fishing begins, “anything can happen.”
The Ice Fishing Festival is sponsored by the Oroville Chamber of Commerce where President Rich Solberg says he enjoys hitting a frozen lake in pursuit of tasty trout.
“It’s not difficult — I start at the bottom and work my line up to where I start catching,” he said. In his neck of the woods, ice 16 inches thick is not uncommon during January and February.
Everyone contacted for this story said, safety can never be emphasized enough. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, ice should be at least 4 inches thick before anyone ventures on to it. Fish and Wildlife does not monitor ice depth on fishing lakes and so cannot guarantee safety. Contrary to what people may think, heavy snow on top of a lake doesn’t necessarily indicate a hard freeze, because the white stuff can produce an “insulatory blanket,” which interferes with freezing.
“Go on the assumption (ice) is never safe; that way, you won’t get in trouble,” Donley said. A Wisconsin ice fishing site shares the rule of thumb for judging ice strength: “Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky.”
Those new to winter fishing will need to compile basic tackle and equipment, including:
*jigging rod, or shorter, firmer rod (for perch)
*tip up — signals when a fish hits on the line. A flag tips up when a fish strikes.
*hooks — small, number 10 or 12 are recommended for pan fish
*lures — ice flies and teardrop lures with live bait.
*line — light monofilament, 2 to 4 lb. test
*leaders — a short wire to which the hook is attached. Fishing line is tied to the other end of the leader.
*bait, such as mealworms, maggots or salmon eggs.
Once you’ve assembled your fishing gear, you’ll also need:
*a toboggan or sled, to haul everything
*ice auger, to drill the fishing hole
*skimmer, used to scoop out slush or chips from the hole
*ice chisel (also called a “spud”), used for chopping holes in thinner ice. Secure the spud with a line tied to your arm, or watch the chisel disappear into the depths.
*gaff hook, a large and heavy hook to help lift a fish from the hole
*dip net, used to dip into minnow buckets to retrieve bait and keep hands dry
*hook disgorger, similar to needle-nose pliers to assist in getting the hook out of the fish’s mouth
*seat, can include a small stool or folding chair, or even a 5-gallon bucket
And of course don’t forget a Thermos of piping hot coffee, cocoa or soup to help stave off the chill.
Unlike regular fishing, one thing you won’t need is a ice cooler to keep the catch–of-the-day fresh. A simple bucket will do just fine.
Clothing basics are the same as for any winter sport, with the goal of avoiding frostbite or hypothermia. Experts suggest wearing layers. Closest to the skin, opt for a moisture-wicking fabric like polypropylene, including a shirt, pants, socks and mitten liners. Cotton is another choice, but once wet it stays wet.
Next is the warmth layer, with wool fleece or a down jacket representing smart choices. Face masks, neck warmers and a hat with ear flaps also protect against cold.
Top things off with a windbreaker. With wool or fleece underneath, a rip-stop nylon windbreaker shell can keep you toasty.
Another possibility is a pair of insulated coveralls, but these can be pricey. The Cadillac of such garb could very well be Cabela’s Clam Corporation Ice Armor Suit. On sale for $250, it features a waterproof, windproof parka and bibs designed for ice anglers. Padded knees and seat ensure kneeling or sitting on the ice to retrieve fish can be done in comfort.
To protect feet from hours spent standing on the cold surface, pack boots offer several layers of insulation as well as a protective rubber layer. Avoid soft-sided hiking boots or street shoes which get wet and allow chill winds to blow through.
Once everyone is properly bundled up, ice fishing is a good winter activity to try with the kids, says Idaho Fish and Game’s Jim Fredericks.
“Unlike warm weather fishing where they could be cooped up in a boat, if the get bored on the ice, they can just run off and play or build a snowman,” Fredericks said.