Fishing

Breaking the ice: First winter trip yields a monster cutthroat trout

Ice fishing can be tough sledding, but this monster cutthroat trout was well worth the five-hour journey to Henry’s Lake.
Ice fishing can be tough sledding, but this monster cutthroat trout was well worth the five-hour journey to Henry’s Lake. Provided by Jordan Rodriguez

Ice fishing is the most unpredictable kind of angling there is. During my recent ice fishing class, I stressed how important it is to stay positive and keep working when the fish aren’t biting. Because sometimes, one fish can turn a tough day into a trip to remember.

I recently put those lessons to use at Henry’s Lake. There’s not a scrap of ice on our side of the state, so my buddy Adam and I trekked more than five hours to fish Henry’s near the Montana border.

It felt strange stepping out into 6 inches of snow, with a chilly north wind looking to exploit any gap in our winter gear. The ice was only 4 inches thick, so we stayed relatively close to shore and set up six rods rigged with different ice jigs, spoons and baits. It was a beautiful day, with only the wind chill to remind us we were in Old Man Winter’s territory.

The first 90 minutes passed without incident. Finally, I detected a faint nibble through the wind. I rushed over and grabbed the rod — sure enough, we had a bite. The rod doubled over as Adam ran to retrieve the waterproof landing gloves. But somehow, the fish was gone, just as suddenly and stealthily as it had appeared.

Score one for the fishes.

Another hour passed without any action below the surface. Along the shoreline, I spotted a young wolverine trotting through the snow. Others wondered aloud whether it might just be an oversized skunk, but I refuse to use that word during a fishing trip.

We drilled some new holes and switched out a few lures. To our delight, the change in tactics paid off immediately with a small cutthroat trout.

“Go find your mom,” I whispered as the fish swam off. I re-baited my hook and kept jigging that same rod.

Within minutes, momma arrived.

The take was subtle, but when I set the hook, I saw a huge fish thrashing just a few feet below us. Before I could yell “Fish on!” Adam was crouched over the hole, gloves at the ready.

But this fish wasn’t ready to meet us yet. Using mini rods with 6-pound line works great for catching perch, but landing a fish this size was going to take some work. Time after time, I wrestled her to the hole, only to watch her run off with half my line again. Adam waited patiently for me to get her head up through the hole, but for at least a half-dozen runs, she only showed us her tail or side.

Finally, I was able to guide the fish nose-first through the hole. Adam seized his opportunity and hoisted the biggest cutthroat I’ve ever seen from the water. I knelt there for a few moments — I was amazed, I was exhausted, and my snow pants had frozen to the surface during the 10-minute battle.

The fish measured 22 inches and weighed over 5 pounds — easily my new personal best trout through the ice. And we definitely weren’t skunked, so our critter must have been a wolverine after all.

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.

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