What to buy for ice fishing if you’re on a budget
One of my favorite things about writing this column is the opportunity to share my love of the great outdoors with others. I love to hear from readers who tried fishing for the first time, went on a new adventure or enjoyed a particularly successful trip after reading one of my articles.
In recent years, I’ve also been sharing my passion for fishing through community classes. And my latest Ice Fishing 101 course served as yet another reminder that watching your favorite pastime become someone else’s newfound hobby is just as rewarding as landing a monster fish.
My group of 13 students first met in November for two days of classroom instruction. Some participants were fishing rookies, others had taken my “Stop Fishing, Start Catching” class and a few were experienced anglers looking to transfer their skills to the ice. Together, we learned about ice fishing species, destinations, safety, gear and techniques.
With the holidays over and safe ice available, we reconvened in mid-January. We planned to fish Cascade, but with heavy rain and wind in the forecast, we called a last-minute audible and headed east to Mormon Reservoir.
Our group caravanned across snowy roads to arrive at Mormon near Fairfield. Some were spooked by hiking across a frozen lake, but their concerns were eased when our first hole measured 12 inches thick.
Working together, we drilled and scooped more than 40 holes, covering an impressive swath of lake. I helped load jigs with various baits and handed out spare rods to those who didn’t have their own. After a half hour of work, we were all set up.
Sadly, the fish didn’t want to join us top-side. Nearly two hours passed without any action. I moved around and chatted with each student, sharing stories and words of encouragement. Then, using my flasher, I finally managed to jig up two chubby perch.
“That’s why you’re the teacher,” chided one student, Larry. “Now show us what we’re doing wrong!”
I assured Larry our luck would change. Sure enough, one of the nearby rods started bouncing. I raced over, set the hook and handed it off to our youngest student. He soon landed a healthy rainbow trout, and the excitement spread throughout the group.
“Be on high alert, folks!” I announced. “Here they come!”
The next 90 minutes were a chaotic blur. Rods wiggled all over the ice, and I raced back and forth helping students land fish and re-bait rods. One student, Jim, caught a big trout with the help of a bell alert system. Another, Gon (AKA Gon Fishing), hooked one on a homemade hook-setting snare.
As I was fixing a tangled line, I noticed a bite on the farthest rod out. I sprinted to it and hooked what felt like a big one.
“Els!” I hollered to a first-time ice angler. “Get down here, this one is yours!”
Els fought the fish to the surface, but the hook pulled at the last second. Before we could mourn the loss, I saw another rod wiggle and raced over to grab it.
“Don’t worry about that last one,” I told Els. “This fish is even bigger!”
I coached Els through the fight as the fish peeled line off our tiny ice rod. Els fought to contain her excitement, calmly playing the fish as the rest of the class gathered around to cheer her on.
After several tense minutes, the fish finally tired. I was able to grab Els’ prize this time, and the group erupted in cheers when they saw a gorgeous, 20-inch rainbow come through the ice.
“Incredible!” Els cried. “That was so exciting! I’ll never forget this fish.”
Neither will I. And I thank you — the readers and students and fishing fans out there — for making such cool, unforgettable moments a reality. Tight lines!
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.