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Ice Fishing a Physically Distanced Way to Keep Active During Pandemic
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Richard and Sue Walton bask in the sun while ice fishing at Magic Reservoir between Bellevue and Shoshone.
 
 
Monday, December 28, 2020
 

STORY BY ROGER PHILLIPS

PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

We have good news for anglers: There’s no offseason for fishing in Idaho, and we don’t believe in cabin fever when there are so many outdoor activities during winter. Ice fishing provides a fun way to get out of the house for a day or a weekend and catch fish. 

Ice fishing is pretty self-explanatory, and all you need aside from your regular fishing tackle is an ice auger and a slotted spoon to keep slush out of the ice hole. Anglers should also know basic ice safety, which is 3-4 inches of clear ice for one person and more for a group. You can learn more on the Idaho Fish and Game’s ice fishing webpage (visit https://idfg.idaho.gov and go to “Fishing.”

Anglers looking for places to go ice fishing can probably find one within a couple hours drive time. Find suggestions on the ice fishing webpage or call a regional office.

When choosing a place to go ice fishing, pay close attention to access. You will need a parking area and an easy place to walk onto the ice. If you have been to a lake or reservoir during summer, those access sites could be blocked by snow. Fish and Game partners with various agencies to help provide ice fishing access by maintaining winter parking lots in many locations. 

If you’re new to ice fishing, or have never fished at all, don’t be discouraged from trying it because it's easy to get started.

Bring basic tackle, such as hooks and weights, some bait (worms work for nearly everything), and give it a try. You will quickly learn what works and what doesn’t and adapt accordingly, and you will also quickly learn why it’s a fun and unique way to go fishing, as well as a great way to get outdoors during winter. 

But a quick word of caution. Idaho is a very diverse state when it comes to climate and geography, so be sure to check local conditions before you go ice fishing. Idaho’s prime ice fishing season typically runs December through February, but conditions can vary dramatically from place to place.  

Here, in no particular order, are five places to check out this winter:

Magic Reservoir 

This reservoir has provided a popular ice fishing destination for decades, thanks to a combination of good fishing, reliable ice, and nearby services that cater to ice anglers. The reservoir produces perch, rainbow and brown trout for ice anglers.

The reservoir's surface area varies from year to year depending on how much water is left after summer. This winter the water level is extremely low, so fishing is primarily near the dam, but there is a silver lining: The fish are congregated in the main channel, making for good catch rates. Anglers are catching plenty of perch up to 10 inches, trout up to 20 inches, and an occasional bass. 

It is best to access Magic Reservoir through the township of West Magic, but watch weather patterns, as the road is not plowed consistently.

Williams Lake

Williams Lake is probably the most popular and easy-to-access ice fishing water in the Salmon Region. There’s parking and nearby restrooms at the Forest Service boat ramp on the west end. 

The 180-acre lake has naturally reproducing rainbow trout that can reach in excess of 20 inches. The trout in Williams Lake tend to suspend in the water column and favor Power Bait, worms or eggs. As winter progresses, fish closer to the surface because oxygen levels in the lake tend to become depleted, thus confining fish to the upper portions of the lake.  Move around if you are not finding fish and change your bait often.  

Williams Lake is about 30 to 45-minutes drive from Salmon depending on road conditions, so bring what you need on your fishing trip.

Lake Cascade

This is arguably Idaho’s best ice fishing destination, thanks to a massive restoration effort conducted by Fish and Game in the early 2000s. The reservoir’s perch population rebounded and flourished and produced numerous state and world’s records, which has attracted anglers from throughout the country seeking its jumbo perch. While perch are the main attraction, the reservoir also has lots of rainbow trout, many of which are trophy sized, as well kokanee salmon and a variety of other fish. 

Quality fishing is the obvious attraction, but a big bonus for anglers is its proximity to the town of Cascade, which offers full services for visitors. Fish and Game partners with Idaho Parks and Recreation and the US Bureau of Reclamation to ensure there’s easy access during winter at various points around the lake.

Lake Cascade is massive at 21 miles long and up to 4.5-miles wide. Due in part to its large size, the fish can congregate in certain areas while others are nearly barren. You will often see anglers gathered at favorite fishing spots, especially on weekends, so that gives you a good hint where the best ice fishing is happening. 

Ririe Reservoir

The Upper Snake region’s chilly climate and accessible lakes and reservoirs gives it a long ice fishing season. In fact, for the last two years, ice anglers have started ice fishing at Henrys Lake around Halloween. Henrys is a great opportunity for anglers with lots of trophy trout, but it also closes on Jan. 2, so Ririe has a longer ice fishing season, as well as good fishing for perch, trout and kokanee. 

Based on trends over the last four years, biologists expect anglers will have plenty of kokanee over 12 inches, and perch populations are looking healthy with some fish reaching about 10-inches with lots of slightly smaller perch. 

"Anglers can expect ice fishing for kokanee and perch on Ririe to be excellent this winter," says Fisheries Biologist John Heckel. 

Ririe Reservoir is easily accessible at the Juniper Access located near the dam. This access is plowed and maintained through the winter by Bonneville County. There is a $5 access fee for this county site. Ririe Reservoir is located minutes from Idaho Falls and provides some great ice fishing opportunity for much of the winter season.

Bear Lake

Large and unique are two simple words to describe this Southeast Idaho destination. It’s about 20 miles long and 8 miles wide and roughly divided in half between Idaho and Utah, but you can fish with a license from either state. 

The lake is unique because it boasts four “endemic” species of fish, which means they exist nowhere else on earth, including Bear Lake whitefish, Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish and Bear Lake sculpin. 

Anglers are drawn to the lake for its trophy Bonneville cutthroat trout, lake trout and whitefish. In addition, there’s a unique cisco fishery where fish are dip-netted through the ice during the fishes’ winter spawning season. 

Ice anglers need to be aware of special rules, which include: 

  • One line only when ice fishing. Two-lines permitted when ice fishing with a two-pole permit
  • Trout limit is 2; only Cutthroat Trout with a clipped adipose fin, as evidenced by a healed scar, may be kept
  • Cisco limit is 30; dip-netting permitted January 1 through February 15. Dip nets no larger than 18 inches in any dimension. Any size hole may be cut through the ice to catch cisco
  • Whitefish limit is 10

The lake is a vacation destination, so there’s a wide range of services and various accommodations from motels to vacation rentals. 

Soldiers Meadow Reservoir 

This ice fishing destination is a best kept secret for local kokanee fishing. It is located 20 miles southeast of Lewiston off County Road P2. 

Soldiers Meadow is a 124-acre reservoir with 4 miles of shoreline and administered by the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District. Available species include rainbow trout and kokanee. Fish and Game crews stocked nearly 25,000 kokanee in the reservoir in 2020, and it also has rainbow trout available for ice anglers. 

Visitors are encouraged to check snow conditions before heading up to this location as the roads are not routinely maintained throughout the winter. Parking can be found in the lot adjacent to the dam along the county road. A restroom is available at the reservoir during winter.

 

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