Every once in a while, an opportunity comes along that is too good to pass up.
My most recent example came after I stumbled across Facebook photos of people catching sturgeon through the ice.
Ice fishing for sturgeon? Now this I had to see for myself.
In the wild, catching sturgeon through the ice would be neither legal (you can’t take them out of the water) nor feasible (they live in deep water that almost never freezes over), but a little research revealed what makes this unique opportunity possible.
The sturgeon live in a privately owned pond near Parma. The owner, Jim Schwartz, allows the public to fish in his pond for $25 per day. The pond also holds bass, catfish, panfish and trout, but sturgeon are the main draw — there are 275 of the prehistoric beasts living in Schwartz’s pond, with the biggest measuring over 7 feet long.
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Most years, the ice isn’t thick enough for fishing. But our recent cold snap has built 8 solid inches atop Schwartz’s pond, so he’s offering anglers the rare opportunity to catch North America’s largest fish species through the ice.
I contacted Jim to arrange a visit, and three companions and I made the trek to Parma. About 50 minutes out of Boise, we arrived at Schwartz’s snow-covered ranch.
Schwartz reminds me of a fisherman’s Santa Claus, with a grizzled beard, a hearty laugh and a jolly demeanor. He greeted us with a wide grin and a well-worn cowboy hat perched precariously atop his head.
“Are you folks ready to catch a sturgeon?” he asked. It seemed he could hardly contain his excitement as he hopped on his Mule (the ATV kind) and led us to the pond.
We arrived and drilled our holes, dropping in barbless hooks baited with pickled herring — Schwartz swears by it, and he sells jars to anglers on-site, along with worms and other tackle.
Within 10 minutes, we had our first strike. My buddy Caleb’s rod doubled over, then straightened out as the fish spit the hook.
“They’re hungry!” Jim yelled.
Moments later, Caleb’s line went tight again. This time, it was fish on!
We gathered around to watch the battle unfold. We were using relatively light tackle for sturgeon; Schwartz requires minimum 20-pound monofilament, and our group was fishing with 25-to-30-pound line on medium-heavy steelhead poles.
Caleb gained line on the fish. He nearly had the fight won, but there was one problem — this fish wasn’t going to fit through our 8-inch hole in the ice.
Quickly, my buddy Luke grabbed the auger and drilled two additional holes, forming a Mickey Mouse shape with the original hole while I kept the line clear of the auger blade. After scooping away the slush, we finally hoisted a three-foot sturgeon onto the ice.
After high fives, photos and a successful release, we quickly “Mickey Moused” the remaining holes as a preemptive strike.
Next, our friend Alicia hooked up and cranked in another nice sturgeon, this one just shy of three feet. I had barely finished photographing her fish when I noticed a bump on the end of my line. I raced over and grabbed my pole. I felt the fish take the bait, and set the hook hard.
This was my first time catching a sturgeon, and it’s definitely an experience. They have a unique combination of dead weight and raw power that taxes your tackle, as well as your lower back. After about five minutes, I worked my fish to the surface. Victory!
As I waited for my next bite, I was struck by the contrast between this and typical ice fishing. Usually, you are scrambling between as many as five poles, checking baits, jigging lures and watching for the subtle nibbles of trout or perch. Fishing for these giants is a different ballgame.
My thoughts were interrupted by another tug at the end of my line. I felt the take and set the hook on something heavy.
Chaos erupted. First, the fish raced left and got tangled in Caleb’s line. After we carefully sorted through that mess, the sturgeon veered right and hit Luke’s line. Again, we somehow managed to avoid disaster.
I peeked down at my reel. The fish easily had more than half my line out. I swallowed hard and tightened my drag. That’s usually a no-no, but with a fish of unknown size peeling off 30-pound line like a Mack truck, I was running out of options.
Slowly, I regained line. It felt like pulling the plug off the bottom of the pond. The fish continued to make long, powerful runs as Jim chuckled in amusement.
“This better be a big one,” Caleb joked, “because no one else can fish until you get it in.”
After what felt like an hour, but was probably closer to 20 minutes, the beast relented. Caleb and Luke managed to slide it through our triple-sized ice hole, and we finally laid eyes on a four-and-a-half footer — a huge fish, but still just mid-sized by sturgeon standards.
“Wow!” I exhaled, more than a little bit out of breath. “Too much fun.”
Jim, grinning from ear to ear, couldn’t resist a parting jab as he climbed aboard the Mule.
“Nice job,” he said. “Just imagine how tired you’ll be if you catch a big one.”
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.
Want to ice-fish for sturgeon?
If the ice melts, Jim Schwartz also offers open-water fishing for sturgeon, bass, catfish and other species. Here’s what you need to know:
- Location: 3500 Elmore Road between Fruitland and Parma. Call for directions.
- Cost: $25 per day. Kids under 6 are free. Discounts are available for groups of six or more. Bait, rod rentals, camping and group event reservations also available.
- Rules: Fishing is catch-and-release. No braided line is allowed. Sturgeon anglers must use minimum 20-pound monofilament and minimum size 2 hooks. Anglers must sign a consent form agreeing to all pond rules.
- Contact: To reserve a time, call Schwartz at 208-739-3819 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also look up “Jim Schwartz Parma” on Facebook for the latest catches and fishing reports.