BOISE, ID. | By ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG – Ice fishing is more than another fishing trip, it’s a whole different experience.
If you haven’t tried ice fishing in Idaho yet, you’re missing out on a winter activity that is not only fun and inexpensive, it’s a great way to catch lots of tasty fish. Not convinced? Here are 10 reasons why you should go ice fishing:
Ice fishing is a good reason to get outside during winter
Winter can give us all a nasty case of cabin fever, but unlike many other activities that make you wait until spring, you can keep fishing during winter. A day on the ice is not just another fishing trip, it’s a whole different fishing experience.
It’s surprisingly beginner friendly
Ice fishing may seem specialized, and part of it is because it’s the only type of fishing that requires an ice auger. But aside from that, nearly any fishing gear will work. You can also build your own ice fishing rods, or a batch of them, for a reasonable price. Here’s a DIY example. If you decide to buy your gear, an ice fishing rod/reel combo is inexpensive, and honestly, a lot of fun to fish with because even a modest-sized fish feels big. After that, all you need is a hook, weight and bait. You can make it as simple or as sophisticated as you want. Check out Fish and Game’s ice fishing page for more information about ice fishing basics and important safety information.
Ice fishing can be a combination of fishing and tailgating
The fishing part is always fun, but you can add more fun with the tailgating part. Bring a camping stove or grill, some food, your favorite beverages (hot or cold), lawn chairs, heater, etc. The only challenge is getting it out on the ice, and an inexpensive kids’ plastic toboggan can haul a surprising amount of gear. If you have a snowmobile or ATV, there are trailers and sleds that are great for hauling cargo.
You can take the whole family, and more
There’s no shortage of space on a frozen lake when there’s adequate ice thickness, so the more the merrier. That’s not always the case when you’re trying squeeze people into limited boat space, or even limited bank access to prime water. The whole lake, reservoir, or pond is available, so you can make it a social gathering as well as a fishing trip. Naturally, everyone should be dressed for the weather, and bring lots of snacks and warm drinks for the kids. They love ice fishing because they can scamper around and have fun on the ice if fishing is a little slow.
The fish taste better
That may sound like an old wive’s tale, or a boast by ice anglers, but there’s scientific evidence that it’s true. The “muddy” taste you sometimes hear about from fish can be caused by blue green algae, which can proliferate during warmer months. Blue green algae is gone, or greatly diminished, in cold and frigid water, so it no longer affects the fishes’ taste. Regardless of the scientific reason, few anglers argue that winter-caught perch and trout (the most common quarry) are not tasty. You can catch a batch of them and have an awesome fish fry, and if you want, you can get it started while you’re still on the ice. Ice fishing is traditionally about catching fish for eating, so indulge, but stay within the bag limits, which you can find in the fishing rules booklet.
No need to buy ice and pack a heavy, ice-filled cooler.
Think of the money you’re saving.
It’s not as cold as it might seem
There’s no getting around it: it’s dead of winter and you’re standing on a sheet of ice. The temperature is what it is, but think of it as the opposite of the old cliche “but it’s a dry heat.” On a calm, sunny day, it can be amazingly comfortable on the ice, even when the thermometer is showing single digits. Part of that is the radiant heat from the sun, and the other part is dressing so all your exposed skin is covered and you’re dressed in layers so you can add and subtract clothing and adapt if conditions change.
Fishing can be fast, furious and fun
Like all fishing, there are no guarantees the fish will bite, but ice fishing is different than other types of fishing because you can fish up to five different lines at once. When the fish start biting, it can be fast paced because you’re trying to hook and land fish and keep all the lines baited and in the water. When you experience that first hand, you will understand why people look forward to ice fishing.
You could set a record
Think that’s a long shot? Maybe, but consider this: Lake Cascade is a popular ice fishing spot that has produced two world record perch since 2015, as well as numerous state records. Ice anglers were responsible for a string of record yellow perch. If you’re curious, here are the state certified weight records, and the catch-and-release records. Keep them handy when you’re fishing this winter and see how close you can come to a record.
Idaho has ice fishing in nearly every part of the state
No matter where you live, an ice fishing destination is probably within a couple hour’s drive and likely no more than three hours. If you don’t live near one, make it a weekend trip and stay at a motel, or if you have an RV, check if there’s a place to stay (preferably with electric hookups to run a heater). Think of it as a mini vacation and a fun winter get away.
Here are some places around the state to go ice fishing, and follow the links to our Fishing Planner to see maps and get more information about each location. There are many others, so feel free to get out and explore this winter.
Important safety note: Ice fishing starts as early as November in parts of the state, but later in others. The fishing spots below are listed because they’re popular for ice fishing, but that doesn’t guarantee they will be available at any time during winter. Conditions can change quickly, so use good judgment before heading out on the ice and remember you’re responsible for your own safety. Three to four inches of solid ice is the minimum to support a person, and thicker ice is needed for groups. About 10 inches of solid ice are needed to support an ATV or snow machine. Here’s more information about ice fishing safety.
Magic Valley Region
The rumors are true! Mormon is back and producing gobs of giant rainbow trout. As of the first week in December there was 2 inches of fresh ice with about 8 inches of snow on Mormon Reservoir. Early ice conditions can be sketchy at best so take precautions and wait for thicker ice. Camas County periodically plows the road into the reservoir, so check with the county before you head up (otherwise it’s a long walk in). You can access the reservoir by heading south from Fairfield on Mormon Reservoir Road. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Mormon Reservoir.
This is a destination for ice anglers that has rainbow trout, brown trout, perch and smallmouth bass. Ice fishing typically picks up in January when thicker ice is more likely to form. It’s best to access Magic Reservoir through the township of West Magic, but watch weather patterns as the road is plowed intermittently. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Magic Reservoir.
This lake has perch, bluegill and bass and typically has thick enough ice for fishing in mid-December. Perch can be caught in the channels running through the center of the lake, and bluegills can be caught on the west end where the lake is deepest. Bass catch rates have been good in recent years, but most bass are below the 12-inch minimum size for harvest. Carey Lake is located east of Carey, with a parking lot and bathroom on the west side of the lake. Ice forms early during typical winters, but the east inflow keeps a pocket of open water, so do not venture into that area. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Carey Lake.
This reservoir offers anglers a rare opportunity to catch walleye, with catch rates of walleye in the 13-to-17 inch range were good during summer at various depths, and fishing came on very strong in the fall with up to 10-inch perch being caught regularly in 10-to-15 feet of water around rocky outcrops. Oakley is also a rainbow trout honey-hole! Recent reports of 25-inch slabs came in, and those big fish are the results of increased stocking in recent years; including receiving 30,000 resident steelhead fingerlings the last 4 years. Oakley can see some early ice, but it is best ventured to in mid-January. Beware the road into the reservoir is rough and receives very little maintenance past the dam during winter. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Oakley Reservoir.
Conner and Emerald Ponds
Both of these ponds provide great ice fishing opportunity for rainbow trout. Every year these fisheries are stocked in mid to late-November with hatchery trout and fishing can be lights out in early January. Both ponds are on the north side of Interstate 84 in Burley. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Conner Pond and Emerald Pond.
American Falls Reservoir
This is a great place to catch some big trout and perch through the ice. Remember, this is a large body of water, so ice conditions can vary greatly across the reservoir. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about American Falls Reservoir.
Cutthroat, lake trout, rainbow trout, and a unique Idaho fish called cisco can be pulled from this large water body that spans Idaho and Utah. Don’t worry, you just need one fishing license from either state to fish this lake. Just remember, only one line is permitted unless an angler possesses a two-pole permit. As with other large water bodies, the ice conditions can get “tricky” quickly from spot to spot, so be extra mindful of ice conditions as you fish across this water body. Dipnetting for cisco is permitted Jan. 1 through Feb.15. Dipnets cannot be larger than 18 inches in any dimension; however, any size hole may be cut through the ice to catch cisco. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Bear Lake.
This is very productive fishery, and a fun place to catch some really nice rainbows. Imagine pulling a 2-pound fish through the ice! Bannock County maintains the road to this fishery, and sometimes the road is closed for weather. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information Chesterfield Reservoir.
Deep Creek and Devils Creek reservoirs
These bodies of water often see good catch rates during the winter with plenty of 12-inch rainbow trout and even some nicer fish pulling on the line. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information Deep Creek Reservoir and Devils Creek Reservoir.
Pocatello’s Urban Fisheries
The fishing ponds at both Edson Fichter Nature Area and the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello are very popular places to ice fish and offer the convenience of being right in town. There is a two-fish limit for each fishery. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information About Edson Fichter Pond and Portneuf Pond (aka Bannock Reservoir).
Upper Snake Region
Located north of the town of Mackay this reservoir consistently provides good kokanee and rainbow trout fishing. Kokanee are typically in the 11-inch range with rainbow trout being upwards of 12 inches. Two access points are plowed often during the winter and are located just off Highway 93. Just look for the Joe T. Fallini campground managed by the BLM or the Battleground access site maintained by Fish and Game. Outhouses and vault toilets are available for use at either location. Because of the long ice fishing season, you will see many substantial ice huts pulled out onto the lake by locals for use all season. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Mackay Reservoir.
Due to its depth, ice on Ririe Reservoir doesn’t typically form until after a solid week of subzero temperatures. It is usually not until mid-January that the ice becomes thick enough to fish. Fish and Game removed Ririe Reservoir from being a special rules water beginning Jan. 1, 2019. This will allow ice fishing on the entire reservoir and remove the previous restriction limiting ice fishing to 1 mile upstream of the dam. Access is by entering the Juniper Campground run by Bonneville County. A $5 day-use fee is required for parking, or a winter-use pass can be obtained for $30. Vault toilets are open year round, and the parking lot is located close to the water with only a short walk down the boat ramp to get you on the ice. Most anglers are targeting the schools of kokanee that circle around the lake and provide moments of intense action for those using multiple rods. During slower periods for kokanee, perch can often be jigged off the bottom closer to shore. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Ririe Reservoir.
This world famous lake produces some of the largest trout in Idaho. Hybrid trout called cut-bows can reach up to 10 pounds or more. Ice fishing here usually begins around Thanksgiving week when the ice becomes strong enough to stand on, and this lake has an abbreviated season for ice anglers because all fishing closes on on the lake on Jan. 2, 2019. Early season is usually considered to be the best. As the season progresses oxygen levels in the lake tend to drop making fish less active. Seasoned anglers willing spend the time figuring out where fish are and what they are biting on usually get rewarded for their efforts. Several access points are available around the lake with the most popular being the Fish and Game Hatchery and County Park which are both plowed with restrooms available. Henrys Lake State Park is only accessible in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Check out Fish and Game’s Fish Planner for a map, fishing rules and more information about Henrys Lake.