One of the unfortunate things that happens in our desert climate is that lakes can dry up, or become so low in the winter that a solid freeze kills most of the fish.
That conundrum — along with aquatic weed growth that compounded the issue and two unsafe bridges that had to be rebuilt along the only motorized access road — put Mormon Reservoir south of Fairfield off the map for the better part of the 2010s.
But there’s good news! The bridges have been rebuilt and, thanks in part to aggressive weed management and fish stocking by Fish and Game, Mormon is back in business. Read this week’s fish report to learn how you can enjoy ice fishing at this rehabilitated reservoir.
Mormon Reservoir (Trout, Perch)
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Mormon is back to producing good trout fishing after some lean years. Since fall 2016, Fish and Game has stocked more than 400,000 rainbows in Mormon, and many of those fish are now keeper-sized adults. On one recent trip, my group caught a dozen nice rainbows using small jigs tipped with worms, corn, mealworms and Power Bait. I also took my Ice Fishing 101 class to Mormon, and we had similar luck. We even jigged up a few perch! They weren’t Cascade giants, but they were healthy keepers. Conditions have been favorable, with a solid 10 inches of ice covered by a varying layer of snow. Mormon isn’t a particularly deep lake, and most of the fishing is happening in 12 feet of water or less. One hint if you make the trip — try to arrive early. Parking is limited, and it fills up fast on the weekends.
Getting there: Take I-84 and Highway 20 east to Fairfield and follow the access signs about five miles south to the reservoir. It’s a two-hour drive from Boise.
Lake Cascade (Perch, Trout)
It has been a mixed bag at Cascade so far this season. Fishing started off slow and has continued to be hit-and-miss at most of the popular access areas. Jumbo perch action has picked up a little of late, but it typically requires a long walk or snowmobile ride to fish the river channel out in the middle of the lake. Warm, rainy weather and sloppy ice conditions have complicated that journey, although colder nights ahead should help firm things up. In general, once you find the fish, perch colored jigs and spoons tipped with worms or cut bait are the ticket. It’s never a bad idea to put out a trout line or two—fish those a little shallower with worms, corn, marshmallows or Power Bait.
Getting there: Take Highway 55 north to Cascade. For the latest ice conditions and fishing reports, call Tackle Tom’s at (208) 382-4367.
Payette River (Trout, Bass)
The Payette River is an often-overlooked winter fishery. As long as the snow is light enough to allow access, trout fishing can be excellent along the stretch that borders Highway 55. Spinners, spoons, bait and flies — especially small nymphs this time of year — can yield some nice rainbows. Trout, bass and catfish also can be caught along the Lower Payette River, where Fish and Game recently opened a new access area and upgraded two existing sites. Sheep Camp Landing, a new access site near Letha, is now open to the public. It includes a small boat ramp, parking area and restroom. The opening of Sheep Camp Landing coincides with site improvements at nearby Sevenmile Slough and Plaza Bridge. Bass and catfish might be sluggish this time of year, but they still will eat bait and jigs fished slowly in deep water.
Getting there: To check out Sheep Camp Landing, take Highway 52 west from Emmett, turn right onto Toms Cabin Road, then left on Vanderdasson Road. Travel just over two miles, then turn right onto West Idaho Boulevard, cross the Payette River, and turn left onto Hanna Avenue.
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.