Every Monday, we’ll post fishing writer Jordan Rodriguez’s weekly report in the Playing Outdoors blog. His column appears three Tuesdays per month.
C.J. Strike Reservoir (Ice Fishing)
The ice survived last week’s warm spell, and anglers continued to catch nice numbers of perch, bluegill and rainbow trout, along with an occasional crappie. Deeper water seems to be the ticket — most reports indicate fish holding in 20-plus feet of water, with very little action in the shallower sections. Small ice jigs and spoons tipped with bait are the ticket. Target trout with marshmallows or power bait, bluegill with worms, perch with cut bait or crappie with dead minnows. Access is limited, even with four-wheel drive. Cottonwood Campground and Jack’s Creek have been the best bets for parking.
Getting there: Head east and then south on I-84 and Simco Road, then follow the signs to C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area via Strike Dam Cut-Off Road and Highway 78.
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Payette Lake (Ice Fishing)
Payette has fishable ice, and I’ve seen some really nice Mackinaw trout getting caught over the last week or two. I’ve had a hard time nailing down exactly how thick the ice is or where the best access points are, so I’d recommend looking for other groups on the ice or going with someone who knows the lake well. Payette also has rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, but Mackinaws are the main draw. They routinely reach weights of 10 pounds, with a shot at a fish over 20 pounds. That’s a big fish to be catching through the ice, so you’ll want to upsize your tackle. Large spoons and tube jigs in silver or white, sometimes tipped with a piece of cut bait, are a go-to setup for many Mackinaw anglers.
Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north to McCall.
Lake Cascade (Ice Fishing)
The action at Cascade is really hit-and-miss. I’ve seen anglers catch some monster perch and a few nice hauls of keeper-sized fish, but there have been plenty of slow days, too. Those having success seem to be fishing in the 30-foot range, but getting out that deep requires a pretty good hike (unless you have a snowmobile or ATV). Even those with vehicles are having a tough time navigating some stretches of the lake thanks to deep snow and lots of slush. Be careful out there, and fish the firmest pockets of ice you can find to avoid a day of cold, wet feet. Ice jigs and jigging crankbaits tipped with worms, mealworms, cut bait or marshmallows are the lures of choice. Rainbow trout occasionally save the day when the perch bite is slow. Poison Creek and Blue Heron offer the best access by foot. Anglers can get out to Sugarloaf Island and other popular spots near the middle via snowmobile (or a really long hike).
Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north to Cascade. For the latest conditions and fishing reports, call Tackle Tom’s at (208) 382-4367.
Lure of the Week
Tube Jig: Soft plastic tube jigs are a must-have for any tackle box. They are an easy-to-use and inexpensive lure that can be absolutely deadly on a number of species. I primarily throw tubes for bass — they are a go-to lure both in largemouth lakes and for Snake River smallmouth. Oftentimes, I simply throw the tube out, let it sink to the bottom and slowly jig it back toward the boat. This mimics a crayfish and is particularly effective on smallmouths. You also can use quicker, shorter jigs higher up in the water column. This mimics a baitfish and can result in explosive strikes. On good days, bass often grab the lure on its way down off the initial cast, or even at the surface. I like to use salted tubes, which add a little scent and taste. Make sure you set the hook quickly, though, because fish will straight-up swallow a tube! There are different ways to rig a tube jig, but I generally stuff a 1/8-ounce jig head inside, poking the hook eyelet out through the plastic. This tends to fish fairly weedless, but there are alternate setups (and weedless jig heads) for fishing in heavier cover. Experiment with different colors — I prefer natural browns, greens and blacks. Mackinaw trout anglers often favor white or silver tube jigs, and smaller, brightly colored versions are effective on crappie and perch. A pack of my favorite Zoom bass tubes costs about $4, and another $2 will buy a multipack of jig heads. Tight lines!
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.