When it comes to winter recreation, fishing probably isn’t high on the list for most folks. The weather is cold, many species are less active and some of the best fishing holes are rendered inaccessible by ice and snow.
But you don’t have to put your fishing gear into storage every winter. Many rivers offer good fishing year-round, and there’s also one specialized type of angling that’s only available during the winter months.
Some anglers are intimidated by the extra gear needed to go ice fishing — or by the prospect of spending the day on a frozen lake — but fear not.
First, the basics: You need about 4 inches of ice to safely venture out on foot. At 8 to 10 inches, it’s safe for snowmobiles. If you are unsure of conditions, drill test holes as you go, always erring on the side of caution.
Gear-wise, the list of essentials is shorter than you might expect: warm clothing, a power auger, some ice fishing rods, an ice scoop and a sled (to haul your equipment) is all you need.
Chairs, ice shanties, snacks, hand warmers and propane heaters are other nice-to-haves.
Most Idaho waters allow up to five poles per angler, so build up your ice-rod collection over the years. For tackle, use brightly colored jigs tipped with various baits. And bring a positive attitude. Ice fishing is far less predictable than open-water fishing, but if you dress warmly and make it a party, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
Here are three Idaho ice-fishing destinations to try this winter:
Located an hour and change from Boise up Idaho 55, Cascade is probably the most popular ice-fishing hole for Treasure Valley residents. The lake usually freezes in December and offers at least a couple months of reliable ice.
Yellow perch and rainbow trout are the target species, and there are some big ones. In fact, state record-sized perch have been caught through the ice in three out of the last four years. Perch pattern jigs tipped with bait are the ticket.
Located about 30 minutes past Cascade, Horsethief is a smaller, trout-only fishery. It was drained last fall to eradicate invasive bullheads, but the fishery bounced back nicely this summer thanks to Fish and Game stocking efforts. They probably won’t be monsters, but pan-sized trout are almost certain to bite on worms, corn, marshmallows and other baits.
Nearby Warm Lake also offers ice fishing for trout, including some big mackinaws.
Magic is about two hours east of Boise, north of Twin Falls. Like Cascade, Magic holds the coveted trout/perch combo.
The perch there don’t grow to Cascade sizes, but there are plenty of keeper-sized fish to make a fry, along with some big rainbow trout. Many anglers swear by the “Magic Sandwich” — a small treble hook tipped with pieces of worm, marshmallow and corn.
Read the weekly Playing Outdoors fishing report to stay up to speed on ice-fishing conditions this winter.
Stay warm out there, and tight lines!
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.