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Only in Minnesota: 20,000 ice fishing holes in one lake

FISHING — I'm guessing the photo above will never be matched at Sprague Lake or anyplace in Idaho or Washington.

 Minnesotans take ice fishing seriously.

An estimated 10,000 anglers headed for Gull Lake last week for the annual $150,000 Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza. The most impressive number is the 20,000 holes the organizers augered in advance for the contestants. 

Even with power augers, that's serious dedication for what they call the "largest charitable ice fishing contest in the world."

Check out the video:

Ice fishing has anglers walking on water

FISHING — Although this week's thaw is cause for caution, the recent cold snap paved the way for ice fishing.

Anglers should check regulations closely not only for general winter rules and bag restrictions but also for rules that may vary from water to water and state to state.

  • Washington allows winter fishing in its numerous year-round mixed-species fisheries as well as at several winter-only trout lakes such as Hog Canyon and Fourth of July. Fishing licenses purchased in 2014 are valid through March 31.
  • Idaho allows winter fishing in most Panhandle lakes, including Cocolalla, Fernan, Hauser, Avondale, Upper Twin and Rose. Fishing licenses are issued on a calendar year, so new licenses were required starting Jan. 1.

The number of rods one can fish through the ice varies:

  • In Washington, anglers may not fish with a rod that's not under their immediate control,
    or leave their gear unattended. Anglers are restricted to one rod unless that angler possesses a two pole endorsement and the lake being fished allows two poles.   Winter-only fishing lakes in the Spokane area (Hog Canyon and Fourth of July) allow two poles for those possessing a two-pole endorsement.  Other lakes do, too, but not all of them. Check the regulations pamphlet for each lake. Those lakes where two poles are not allowed are marked as such with an emblem showing two crossed fishing poles with the word NO above it (all highlighted in yellow).
  • In most of Idaho, there are no restrictions on the number of holes, but an angler can fish with up to five poles or lines at a time, and up to five hooks per line. The fishing setups must be attended.

The size of the hole one can cut in the ice is restricted for safety.  Washington recommends an 8-inch maximum diameter while Idaho restricts anglers to 10 inches or less.  The Priest Lake mackinaw (above) is an example of why a 10-inch hole might be handy in Idaho, but in practices, most of the region's winter fish can easily be landed through an 8-inch hole.

Ice thickness required for safety varies by conditions.  According to Idaho Fish and Game, a minimum of three inches of clear, blue ice (preferably four inches), will support a single angler, and five inches will hold several anglers in single file. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice. Freeze-thaw cycles and water movement, no matter how slight, retard safe freezing and speeds thawing. 

Tips for catching fish through the ice in area lakes from Idaho Fish and Game include:

  • For yellow perch and other panfish, auger a few holes until you find a spot about 20-25 feet deep and fish just above the bottom using maggots, cut bait or black maribou jigs.  Occasional movement of your bait or lure will trigger strikes.  
  • Trout anglers often will do better with their bait suspended in the water column rather than just above the bottom. Ice fishing for trout is often better in shallower water along shorelines. Try several depths until you find trout.  Any type of the bait additives adding scent or color will likely improve your success.

Top North Idaho winter fisheries recommended by IFG spokesman Phil Cooper include:

  • Medicine, Killarney, or Coeur d’Alene (when well frozen) for pike. 
  • Hayden Lake's shallow bays with lots of weed growth are also productive for pike. Use smelt or herring 3-4 feet below the ice.
  • Spirit Lake for kokanee in the very early morning, when ice conditions permit. Kokanee live in schools, so look for anglers catching fish.  Without crowding other anglers, auger a hole nearby.  Use a bead chain with a maggot tipped glow hook.  

Finding timely information on ice conditions is difficult, although one website is useful in getting fairly timely info from ice anglers. No agencies offer the information because of lack of staff and their inability to keep up with constantly changing conditions.

Ice fishermen tap mobile phone apps

FISHING — The sudden rush of below-freezing temperatures reminds us that ice-fishing season isn't far off.

Time to starting gearing up; make sure the ice auger blades are sharp.

Cold weather is the bane of high-tech gadgets, but some companies are offering interesting stuff, especially geared to portions of the country where anglers cozy up in elaborate shelters and where state rules allow anglers to fish through multiple holes.

  • In Washington, anglers may not Fish with a rod not under your immediate control,
    or leave your gear unattended. Anglers are restricted to one rod unless that angler possesses a two pole endorsement and the lake being fished allows two poles.   Winter-only fishing lakes in the Spokane area (Hog Canyon and Fourth of July) allow two poles for those possessing a two-pole endorsement.  Other lakes do, too, but not all of them. Check the regulations pamphlet for each lake. Those lakes where two poles are not allowed are marked as such with an emblem showing two crossed fishing poles with the word NO above it (all highlighted in yellow).
  • In most of Idaho, there are no restrictions on the number of holes, but an angler can fish with up to five poles or lines at a time, and up to five hooks per line. The fishing setups must be attended.

But check this out, cold-weather techies: Products offered by a company called  ICE FORCE include the MarCum PanCam underwater camera unit, which syncs to anglers’ mobile devices through an app that allows them to monitor multiple holes at once via a live video feed.

Check out the video demonstration:

Angler pulls huge mack through ice at Priest Lake

FISHING — Micah Smith caught this huge mackinaw while ice fishing at Priest Lake on Saturday, says lakeside reporter Pecky Cox in her As the Lake Churns blog.  No other details, however.

Most lake trout caught by ice fishermen are in the 3- to 6-pound range.  This one looks 20-plus.

Special rules apply to angling through the ice

FISHING — Following is a fishing regulations tip for the season from the Idaho Fish and Game Department.


Q. Are there special rules for ice fishing?
A. Yes. Ice fishing rules are slightly different than general fishing for public safety and general crowding. Fishing is allowed only through a hole up to 10 inches in diameter. This reduces the risk of someone falling through holes. The only exception is on Bear Lake in Southeast Idaho where anglers can dip-net cisco through any size hole. There are no restrictions on the number of holes, but an angler can fish with up to five poles or lines at a time, and up to five hooks per line. All lines must be attended by the angler. The two-pole permit is not valid for ice fishing. Anglers also should check the 2013-2015 Fishing Seasons and Rules book for regional restrictions.

Idaho closes Rose Lake access during construction

FISHING — The Rose Lake Access Area managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will be closed to public access this winter.  The closure is needed for public safety during an access site improvement construction project southeast of Fourth of July Pass.

Construction and closure of the site will begin the week of December 16, 2013.

The project involves converting the Rose Lake Boat Launch from a primitive site to a modern facility.  Numerous improvements will be completed that will make the site much more useful to anglers and boaters, the agency says.  Parking will be expanded and moved closer to the water than is currently available.  Plans include 20 or more parking spaces that are more convenient than those currently available.

A new road to the boat ramp will be built that will access an enhanced loading area.  ADA accessible parking will be created near the docks and ramps.  A new double lane launch surface is planned, as is a new boarding dock system.  A boat pre-launch prep area will be constructed.  Surfaces will be covered with asphalt.

Info: Idaho Fish and Game Panhandle Region office, (208) 769-1414. 

Thaw melts plans for Hauser Lake ice fishing event

FISHING — Thinning ice has caused the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to cancel the Take Me Fishing ice fishing event planned for Saturday, (Feb. 23) at Hauser Lake, officials announced Tuesday evening.

Located in Idaho almost within a long fishing cast of Washington; Hauser Lake is a popular fishery for yellow perch, bluegills, crappie and other species. The lake normally produces excellent fishing in both the summer and winter.
However, this winter has not been kind to northern Idaho ice fishing anglers. There were only about three weeks of good, solid ice present on Hauser and some of the other lowland lakes.
Only two anglers were on the entire 550 acre lake on Tuesday morning. They were fishing on the north side of the lake, precariously near open water.
“While two individual anglers may be able to get on and off the ice successfully, IDFG cannot sponsor an ice fishing event that could attract several hundred people when the ice is thin,” said IFG spokesman Phil Cooper.
IDFG plans will have to hold off until next winter to redo the event, which allows anglers to borrow gear and fish without a fishing license during specified hours.  About 550 people showed up for last year's event, and ate a ton of free hot dogs to boot.
Ice conditions can change every day with fluctuating temperatures and changing water levels. Because of that, anglers must be very careful before venturing out on the ice. Ice that is at least 4” thick is safe if it is clear. Anything less or with bubbles embedded in it can be weak and dangerous.
Anglers looking for late season ice fishing opportunities could look at Upper Twin and Lower Twin lakes which tend to hold ice longer than most area waters. As of President’s Day there was solid ice on both. However, the channel between the lakes thins out early.
Some of the Boundary County lakes may have safe ice.

Ice fishing conditions as good as they get

FISHING — Anglers who thrive on cutting a hole in the ice to drop a line were in a golden moment today.

The ice was a half-foot thick at Silver and Sprague Lakes today as I cruised around; winds were calm and the sunshine was brilliant, making temps in the teens quite pleasant.

One angler at Sprague said he wished the ice was not quite so thick because it was wearing him out augering holes as he tried to find fish.

The fishing wasn't exactly fast and furious at the two lakes I checked on my way out and back from quail hunting.  Anglers at Silver Lake had a few perch. I checked four of the six anglers on Sprague Lake at 2:30 p.m. and they had no fish.

"But what the hay," one angler said. "It's great to be out here."

Hog Canyon, 4th of July Lakes heavy with fish

WINTER FISHING — Hog Canyon had an average turnout, but the pressure was down somewhat at Fourth of July lake when the fisheries opened for their winter trout season on Saturday.

Fishing was good, but anglers had trouble getting their limits after catching two fast fish over 14 inches.

Problem:  Most of the fish are large and you can keep only two fish longer than 14.

Click here for the opening weekend report from Hatch and Williams lakes near Colville.

Following is the Hog Canyon/Fourth of July lakes report from Randall Osborne, Washington Department of Fish Wildlife area fisheries biologist:

Both lakes were ice free for the opener and with the forcast, should stay that way for a while anyway. Both lakes fished relatively well and should be good for quite a while through the season.

Hog Canyon Lake - this lake had a pretty good turnout for the opener. Rainbows averaged 16 inches and ranged from 9 to 20 inches. Average number of fish harvested by anglers that were creeled was 1.9 fish/angler.

Fourth of July Lake - Not the most people I have seen here in past openers, but still a pretty good turnout. Rainbows averaged 17.5 inches and ranged from 15.5 to 21.5 inches. Average number of fish harvested by anglers that were creeled was also 1.9 fish/angler.

When these two lakes are in form, like they are now, they tend to grow trout really, really well. This is the reason for the relatively low harvest rates. Most people harvested their two fish over 14 inches pretty quickly, but struggled a bit finding fish under 14 inches to fill in their limits.


The Pull of the Moon and the Call of the Sun

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    Following the main street through the center of Fish Creek, Wisconsin, on the western shore of the Door Peninsula, I stopped at the literal end of the road and stared out at the blue-white ice-skimmed surface of Green Bay.

    Sunset Beach Park is as far as you can go.

    A hundred yards or so to my right, out on the frozen shoreline of the bay, there were three people setting up cameras and tripods and occasionally their voices, scraps of conversation or a sudden burst laughter, carried to where I was standing. But for the most part, I was wrapped in cold winter silence.

    Of course, winter isn’t really silent at all. Even snowflakes make a sound when enough fall together. And as I sat on the curving stone wall looking over the cobbled beach, I began to notice the occasional sharp fracturing sound of the ice as it moved, edge against frozen edge.

    The park, aptly named, faces due West and provides a expansive view of the sunset and I imagine in summer, high season for the peninsula, when small towns swell with tourists and part-time residents, there is always a crowd at the end of the day. But it was still an hour to sunset on a cold February day, when the temperature was dropping with the sun, and still the view was irresistible. Minute by minute the colors of the sky changed.

    Suddenly the quiet was broken by the chatter and squeals of three teenage girls. They’d been strolling shoulder to shoulder down to the beach but when they saw the way the clouds surrounding the sun were stained, and shafts of light were streaking across the water toward them or shooting straight up, piercing the cloud cover like searchlights trained on the sky, they forgot whatever they’d been discussing and ran headlong down to the shore and out to the dangerous edge of the brittle iceline. The mother in me reacted and I almost called out to them to be careful. I could imagine their response, noticing for the first time the woman they’d hurried past, rolling their eyes at my warning. I held my breath as they danced and laughed.

    “Ohmygod, Ohmygod,” they called out, posing for one photograph after another, taking turns behind the camera.  “This is so beautiful.”

    “ Take one of me like this.”

    “No, take one of me.”

    By then, as if summoned to a meeting, a few more people had joined me at the park and cars were pulling over. On the ice, half a dozen serious photographers jostled for position, some setting up in one spot only to abruptly move to another- a better-angle for taking the perfect photograph. Other people simply pulled out cellphones and held them up, ready for the moment when the color would peak.

    As we all stood there, watching the sun move slowly, inexorably, to the edge of the horizon, washing the entire western sky in a deep pink, I thought about what primal drive compels us to stop for sunrises and sunsets and to record them if only in memory. Whatever it is, spiritual call or instinct, I was, in that moment, aware of its presence and grateful for it.

    It has to be a good sign, don't you think? Evidence that no matter where progress and time are taking us, we are, at heart, still connected to the natural world. On a raw Wisconsin winter day, we are held by its gravity and pulled by its beauty enough to make our way down to the shore to stand and wait, to celebrate the gift of the sun that paints the sky with fire.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Ice reported unsafe at Fourth of July Lake

FISHING — A Washington ice fisherman visiting Fourth of July Lake on Thursday reported open water around the edges and water over the ice in the main portion of the lake.  He said he packed up and decided it was safer to go ice fishing somewhere else.

This information was reported and added into today's Fishing-Hunting report by correspondent Al Liere, but somehow his original column was published in today's paper without the updates.

Ice fishing event for newbies Saturday at Cocolalla Lake

FISHING — A free event to introduce people to ice fishing is set for Saturday (Feb. 11) at Cocolalla Lake south of Sandpoint, sponsored by Idaho Fish and Game Department.

Everything about the event is free, including bait and the fishing equipment available to borrow. Free hot dogs and hot chocolate will be served. Volunteers from Fish and Game and Cabela's will be augering the holes in the ice. No fishing license is required during the hours of the event, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Idaho Fish and Game is sponsoring this Take Me Fishing event two weeks after a big crowd flocked to the first ice fishing event at Hauser Lake.

Cocolalla Lake is on the west side of U.S. Highway 95 between Athol and Sandpoint.  The trailer and barbeque will be at the boat launch/campground on the north end of the lake.  Follow the “Sportsman Access” signs on the west side of US 95 just north of the Westmond store. 

Read on for more details.

Photo shows draw of ice fishing, hot dogs

FISHING — This photo illustrates the crowd that can be attracted by offering the free loan of ice fishing gear.

More than 350 people showed up at Hauser Lake Saturday for an Idaho Fish and Game Department Take Me Fishing event. They borrowed gear, feasted on free hot dogs and hot chocolate and fished through the ice for a few hours with no licenses required.

Hot dog! Hauser Lake ice fishing event huge success

ANGLING — Saturday's free ice-fishing event at Hauser Lake, organized by Idaho Fish and Game, was a huge success in luring people of all ages to try the sport.

Lots of credit to go around, but you have to give a big high five for service beyond the call of duty to the three sportsmen who were ice fishing at the lake when they saw the organizers being overwhelmed by people eager to borrow fishing gear from the Take Me Fishing trailer.

The three anglers put their gear away and helped the newbie anglers for the rest of the day, said Phil Cooper, IFG spokesman.

"The event was scheduled to start at 11 am.  When we arrived at 9:20, we had people waiting," he said.  "We had them help us set up the trailer and then gave them equipment to start fishing." 

Cooper counted more than 260 people at one time getting gear or on the solid 8 inches of ice trying to hook a fish. Two IFG biologists were drilling ice fishing holes as fast as they could with a gas-powered auger.

The volunteer crew, which included five IFG employees and three Cabela's employees, helped at least 350 people get a taste of fishing — not to mention a taste of the 496 hot dogs and 23 gallons of hot chocolate served free to the crowd.

"The fish were not as cooperative as we would have liked, however, there were some yellow perch, bluegills and one large largemouth bass caught," Cooper said.

"One man stopped as he was leaving and said he had a blast and had never ice fished before because he had always been afraid to walk on the ice.  I asked him how old he was and he said he will turn 70 in a week.  So, for him this event helped him overcome 70 years of reluctance to go ice fishing.  He said he was heading from the event to Cabela’s to buy an ice auger!"

People participating did not need a fishing license during the hours of the event, regardless age or whether they were from Idaho or Washington.

Warm up to ice fishing at Hauser Lake event

ICE FISHING — Nobody will be left out in the cold on Saturday during a free ice-fishing event at Hauser Lake, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., sponsored by the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

The agency will loan free fishing gear from the Take Me Fishing trailer on the fishing access site at the south end of the lake off Hauser Lake Road.

Volunteers will drill holes in the ice for participants and help new anglers get started, said Phil Cooper, IFG spokesman. Free hot dogs and hot chocolate will be served.

The parking area is scheduled to be plowed and the restrooms will be open.

 Youths under 14 years never need a fishing license to wet a line in Idaho, but during the hours of the event, older anglers also can fish without a license, Cooper said.

”These events give their parents, older siblings and friends the opportunity to try fishing without purchasing a license,” he said, noting that the agency held 28 Take Me Fishing events across the state last spring. Saturday’s event will be the Panhandle Region’s first session on ice-fishing.

Spirit Lake kokanee bonanza going untapped

WINTER FISHING — Ice anglers in North Idaho should be cleaning upon the record number of mature kokanee in Spirit Lake this winter – except they can’t get to the fish.

Idaho Fish and Game Department reports from August trawling surveys say “the most abundant year class of kokanee ever documented for this lake” is swimming around virtually unscathed.

“The strong year class of one year old kokanee last year is now a record high year class of two year old kokanee,” the report said, estimating there would be more than 382,000 kokanee averaging at least 8.25 inches waiting for anglers when the ice fishing opportunities began this winter.

That pencils out to about 260 catchable-sized fish for each acre of water, or about four times as many kokanee as last year!

But the ice-fishing hasn’t happened.

“It’s a shame for ice fishermen,” said Jim Fredericks, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional fisheries manager. “The east end of the lake has had enough ice for fishing on a couple of occasions, but that’s not really where the kokanee fishing is.”

The bulk of the lake has remained ice-free.  Sure, the season’s open year-round and you could fish from a boat, except there’s just enough ice around the edges to thwart boat-launching.

“Maybe we still have a chance for a good cold snap to get ice fishermen out off Silver Beach or Bronze Bay – the best winter kokanee fishing places,” he said.

“If not, there will be a great kokanee fishery waiting for handliners and jiggers off the cliff at the east end this spring,” he said.

Ice fishing still possible, but be careful out there

FISHING — Ice fishing is still good in areas of the Idaho Panhandle, "but you have to be a bit more careful to keep from going swimming, especially around the shoreline," said Jim Hayden of Idaho Fish and Game. The warming trend has made ice less safe in many areas. 

" Watch you don’t sneak out onto the ice, and not be able to sneak back off when it warms up later in the day," Hayden warned.

By the way, Idaho requires sportsmen to buy 2012 fishing and hunting licenses starting Jan. 1.

  • In Washington, current licenses are valid through April 31. 

Walking on ice? Boot company gets a grip

WINTER SPORTS — No need to be slip-sliding along all winter.

Korkers, the Oregon boot company that made its name with interchangeable soles for fishermen's wading boots, has diversified into other footwear, including with snowboots that have different traction options, including studded soles for applications such as ice fishing.

Check out this story from the Oregonian.

Ice fisherman jigs up a whopper

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FISHING — The arctic weather chilling the Inland Northwest is firming the surface at some lakes and pushing the reset button for ice anglers.

If you're looking for a wall-hanger fish to brag about this weekend, try to guess where the angler in this video is fishing — and be sure to cut a big enough hole.

P0’d woman assaults ice anglers with fish

ICE FISHING — This story out of the Muskegon (Mich.) News sort of dashed any romance I had about settling down in one of the traditional ice-fishing shacks that are so popular on the eastern half of the U.S.

Turns out you have to be careful about the neighborhood, even on the ice, as you can see from this story about a couple of guys minding their own tip-ups when a lady piddles on their plot of ice and starts whacking them with frozen fish.

Winter fishing opens with a whimper

FISHING — The Spokane area’s two winter fishing trout lakes open on Wednesday. The fish are there, but the conditions are iffy.

The waters are Fourth of July Lake just south of Sprague and Hog Canyon Lake off I-90’s Fishtrap exit.

Fourth of July’s east end has about two iches of ice with a lot of snowy insulation coming down on top of it today. The west end of the lake still had open water as of Monday.

Chris Donley, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist said some anglers will probably try out the ice, but he wouldn’t.

I have no firm report on Hog Canyon, but it will take a few heroes in chained up four-wheel drives to break trail in to find out.

Lake Roosevelt, a year-round fishery that’s particularly hot for large trout in November and December, is the clear favorite for catching fish, but beware that the boat ramps have been very icy from the dripping of boats coming out of the water. Boaters who pull the bilge plugs and let their boats drain as the pull up the ramp contribute to the icing.

But shore fishing at Roosevelt areas such as Seven Bays is a great option.