Every year during ice fishing season, I get lots of questions about Payette Lake in McCall. It is lesser known than Cascade, and fewer anglers fish it, but the giant Mackinaw trout that lurk in the depths of Payette are a definite draw.
Ice season on Payette Lake often arrives late and doesn’t last long, but it’s here now. Read on to see how one lucky angler already wrestled a monster through the ice, plus more winter destinations to try.
Payette Lake (Ice Fishing)
Payette has had fishable ice for about two weeks. You’ll have to deal with lots of snow, but the Mackinaws are ready to play. Reader Mike Garshak emailed in a great Mackinaw story. Fishing in about 50 feet of water with a large, white tube jig, Mike hooked a 33-inch Payette Mack and held on for dear life as it peeled 6-pound line off his tiny ice rod. After nearly half an hour, he managed to bring the beast to the surface. It was the only bite of the day — and with Mackinaw fishing, that’s not uncommon — but it made Mike’s trip worthwhile. If you want to duplicate his success, large tube jigs or spoons tipped with a chunk of cut bait are a good place to start. Using a flasher will help locate these solitary predators, who often dwell in at least 50 feet of water. Mike released his fish, which is a good practice for big adults over 30 inches.
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Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north to McCall. Public marinas are the easiest place to access the ice, and snowmobiles are helpful for getting around.
Magic Reservoir (Ice Fishing)
Magic continues to produce the best ice fishing catch rates within driving range of Boise. Anglers are catching lots of small perch, a handful of keepers, and occasional brown and rainbow trout using small jigs tipped with worms, corn, Power Bait or a chunk of perch cut bait. Anglers targeting perch have been finding schools in 10 to 25 feet of water. Trout will show up as bycatch, but if you want to target bigger fish, they often hang out shallow as they forage for wounded perch minnows. Use caution getting there — the snow is deep and the roads can be treacherous. Once you arrive safely at the dam or West Magic Resort, using snowmobiles is your best bet. The ice is about a foot thick.
Getting there: Take I-84 east to Mountain Home and Highway 20 northeast past Fairfield. You can also access Magic via I-84 and Highway 75. Call West Magic Resort at (208) 487-2571 for the latest reports.
Boise River (Trout)
If ice fishing isn’t your bag, wintertime action has been remarkably consistent on the Boise River. Anglers are catching lots of rainbow trout and whitefish on nymph patterns, streamers, spinners and bait. Large brown trout are also a possibility, especially as the river slows down through Eagle and Star. I’m even seeing some bass caught farther west as the Boise approaches its confluence with the Snake River. Keep your gear ready so you can seize a fishing opportunity on our next mild afternoon.
Getting there: Fish & Game stocks trout all along the Boise, from Barber Park through Eagle and Star.
Snake River (Mixed Bag)
The Snake is another solid open-water option. Bass and catfish can be sluggish in the winter, but I’ve seen some nice catches from smallmouth anglers in recent weeks. Fish deep and slow with finesse plastics, drop shots, jigs or night crawlers. Sturgeon also remain active in the winter months and will munch on cut bait and pickled sturgeon candy. The Snake also holds some big trout, particularly as you head east toward Hagerman.
Getting there: Popular access points include Swan Falls Dam near Kuna, Walters Ferry south of Nampa and Bell Rapids near Hagerman.
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.