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Ten reasons to go ice fishing this winter, and where it happens

December 18, 2018
In the Upper Snake Region, places to go ice fishing include the Mackay & Ririe Reservoirs and Henry’s Lake.

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, a 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 to 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 firsthand, 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 in the Upper Valley Region 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.

Upper Snake Region

Mackay Reservoir

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.

Ririe 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 one 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.

Henrys Lake

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 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 to 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.

Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to showcase ice fishing areas particular to the Upper Snake Region. More places in other regions of the state can be found in the full article on Idaho Fish and Game’s website at idfg.idaho.gov.

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