Don’t get the appeal? Why these Idahoans spend hours dangling lures into frozen lakes

It takes a fierce passion to get avid anglers outside in the cold to sit for hours and stare at a hole in the ice.

“It’s because I’m Swedish, I don’t know any better,” said Arn Berglund of Idaho Falls. Berglund is a retired marine biologist who was fishing on the frozen Ririe Reservoir recently.

“Ice fishing is pretty laid back,” he said. “You should be out here when the old folks club is here drinking their homemade brandy. They get philosophical, and a lot of the world’s problems are solved out on the ice.”

When the temperatures turn cold in eastern Idaho, hardy anglers head to lakes, ponds, reservoirs and frozen bends in the Snake River to bore holes in the ice and dip a lure or bait. The payback is trout, perch, kokanee and possibly a catfish.

The tools of the trade include miniature spinning rods, an auger, a slotted ladle to keep holes ice free, a chair to sit on, plenty of warm clothes, a shelter (especially on nastier weather days), a heater and a sled to pull everything across the ice. Some people enjoy using a fish finder showing what depth the fish are hanging out.

“I tell the kids it’s like a video game,” Jason Bush said of his fish finder. Bush was spending a couple of hours at the Becker Pond at Ryder Park recently. “I caught a couple trout, but I threw them back. I’ve eaten my share of trout growing up so I just put them back. My wife doesn’t care for trout.”

James Brower of Idaho Department of Fish and Game said Becker Pond is home to a variety of fish popular with ice fishers. Other popular ice fishing areas include Henry’s Lake (until it closed Jan. 2), Island Park Reservoir, the Jim Moore Pond at Roberts and Mackay Reservoir. Anglers seek trout, kokanee and perch.

Nearby Berglund at Ririe Reservoir was a couple, Corey Raichart and Sunny Hartgraves, sitting about 15 feet from each other with five ice holes, rods and a fish finder in between them.

Raichart pulled a small perch out of a hole, then released it back into the water.

“We’re hoping for some kokanee so we can have something for dinner,” Hartgraves said. She stood and approached Raichart to rebait her lure.

Raichart gave her a wary eye thinking she might use his ice hole.

“That’s where I draw the line,” he said. “I’m going to marry you, but you can’t have my fishing hole.”

Sometimes the ice isn’t all that thick. That was the case Jan. 4 on Ririe Reservoir, where six people were fishing on 3-inch-thick ice.

“I’m a little nervous,” Hartgraves said looking at the ice hole in front of her.

Brower said 3 inches is about the minimum for safe ice, but thicker is better. Ririe Reservoir is often the last body to freeze over. Other ponds and lakes were already several inches thick.

“Come out here tomorrow,” Berglund said of Ririe Reservoir, “and you’ll probably see a few wingnuts on four-wheelers breaking through the ice. It’s entertaining.” Fish and Game recommends 10 inches of ice to support an ATV or snow machine.

Brower said the best-reported ice fishing is currently at Mackay Reservoir.

“They’re pulling in a lot of kokanee,” he said.

Brower said Mackay Reservoir attracts elaborate shelters put up by anglers that sometimes stay up too long and fall through the ice in spring.

Brothers Kade Schaots and Kelton Beahm were spending most of their day fishing the Jim Moore Pond inside a warm shelter. At their feet on the ice were more than two dozen small perch. The pile continued to grow.

“We like to come out here and clean out some of the little perch,” Schaots said.

He said besides comfort, a dark shelter allows a fisherman to see the fish down in the ice hole.

“You can see the fish come up and take the lure,” he said.

Rules allow anglers to use up to five rods/lines at a time. The daily trout limit is generally six fish. There is no limit on perch, bluegill or crappie. There can be special limits on other fish depending on the waters. Fishing is allowed only through a hole up to 10 inches in diameter. If you leave a shelter unattended overnight on the ice, it must have the owner’s name, address and phone number on it.

For more specific regulations for specific waters, consult the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman