What to buy for ice fishing if you’re on a budget
Winter is in full swing across southwest Idaho, and the snowy conditions might make traveling and fishing tricky for a while. If you do venture out, be sure to stay safe and exercise extra caution on the roads, near the water and on the ice.
For those willing to brave wintry conditions, trophy perch fishing has been picking up at Lake Cascade. Here are some tips for catching a Cascade jumbo, along with other destinations to try:
Lake Cascade (Perch, Trout)
The big perch are showing up in numbers as the calendar creeps toward March. If someone is going to break the state record — and the coveted 3-pound barrier — it likely will happen in the next couple weeks. Recent tournaments have seen anglers weigh in several fish over two pounds, with most of the jumbos coming from the Sugarloaf area. You need a snowmobile to fish the prime jumbo waters, and even then, access is tricky with two feet of snow and slush piled atop 12 inches of ice. Perch tend to eat one of two things: perch-colored minnow imitations tipped with cut bait, or tiny tungsten jigs tipped with a wax worm or mealworm. Anglers on foot will have a hard time piling up jumbos, but big perch and rainbow trout are still possible at Poison Creek, Blue Heron and the city ramp. Stay vigilant — my trips to Cascade have been quality over quantity, with big fish striking suddenly and infrequently.
Getting there: Take Highway 55 north to Cascade. For the latest ice conditions and fishing reports, call Tackle Tom’s at (208) 382-4367.
Warm Lake (Trout)
If conditions allow access to Warm Lake, fish are biting. The road from Cascade is generally well-plowed, so if you use four-wheel drive and take your time, you should make it. Warm Lake is home to rainbow, brook, bull and Mackinaw trout as well as Kokanee salmon. Rainbows are most common, and all five species will take small jigs and spoons tipped with worms, corn, marshmallows or salmon eggs. The most popular stretch of lake is the shoreline near North Shore Lodge. Anglers can walk out 200 yards and reach prime fishing in 15 to 25 feet of water. To target Mackinaws, fish deeper (you may need a snowmobile to get there) and use large silver spoons or white tube jigs tipped with cut bait.
Getting there: Take Highway 55 north to Cascade, then turn right on Warm Lake Road and follow it 26 miles to the lake. North Shore Lodge offers discounted winter rates on cozy cabin accommodations.
Horsethief Reservoir (Trout, Kokanee)
For low-stress ice fishing, head to Horsethief. It’s closer to town and easier to access than Warm Lake, and the bite is more reliable than Cascade. Pan-sized rainbows are usually the catch of the day, although there are bigger rainbow and brown trout present along with Kokanee. As of this writing, snowmobiles and trucks have plowed a decent path to the lake. Target trout and Kokanee in 10 feet of water using small tungsten jigs, spoons and tube jigs tipped with worms, corn or Power Bait.
Getting there: Take Highway 55 north to Cascade, then turn right on Warm Lake Road and follow it about eight miles to the Horsethief turnoff.
Brownlee Reservoir (Crappie, Bass)
If you’re itching to fish open water, Brownlee is one of my favorite reservoirs to target early in the year. Crappie are usually willing to bite small, brightly colored panfish jigs if you can locate schools. I’m curious to see the size on this year’s fish. If the pattern from recent years continues, we could see some 15-inch slabs. If the lake’s growth cycle has started over, it might be a year of small crappie. Fingers crossed we get the former. Early season bass fishing can also be had at Brownlee. Fish slow with jigs, soft plastics and crankbaits. Catfish are always in play, too, including monster flatheads.
Getting there: Brownlee is located about two hours from Boise on the Idaho-Oregon border. Fish out of Steck Park on the Idaho side, or go through Huntington, Ore., and launch a boat from Spring Marina.
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.