Most people think a year consists of four seasons. Hunters and anglers, however, see a year consisting of many more seasons. One of the times of years when there are few seasons for hunting and fishing is now. This is ice fishing season. This period of time is environmentally determined, beginning when the ice is thick enough to walk on until it is no longer safe. For smaller lakes this timeframe is from December to February but some of our bigger lakes (e.g. Bear Lake) don’t freeze every year.
One advantage of ice fishing is that in most places you can use multiple rods. This is true in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming but it is important to know where there are exceptions and other rules about how those rods can be deployed. So read the regulation book before heading out on a lake.
The value of being able to fish multiple rods is it allows an angler to explore. Anybody who has spent much time ice fishing knows there are always one or two holes that are catching fish when the others are not. The chance of finding a spot that has the right conditions to produce fish is therefore partially dependent upon drilling a lot of holes. That means if you aren’t catching fish, move. This is one of the biggest arguments against ice tents as they allow people to get comfortable staying in one place. The best way to ensure you catch fish is to make the ice around you look like Swiss cheese.
In most lakes, ice fishing success throughout the season is not static. The best time to fish is soon after the ice forms. The simple reason for this is at the start of the ice fishing season, the current year’s crop of fish hasn’t been harvested yet. It is also easier to find fish. They are where you expect them; near the bottom, around points or over large rocks. They can be in these areas because as a lake cools in the fall they turn over, which mixes the water and makes it well oxygenated. When a lake is ice covered less oxygen can be incorporated into the water. Couple this with decaying plants and the oxygen at the bottom of the lake can be depleted. When that starts to happen toward the end of winter, anglers must search all water depths to find fish.
The best time to fish is the couple hours around sunrise. Most fish are sight feeders, so as the sun penetrates the ice and water they will begin to feed after a night of fasting. The best targets for ice fishing are trout as they are cold water species. Yellow perch and bluegill are right behind. Bass and crappie are a bit harder to catch. The great thing about Cache Valley’s lakes is most of them have multiple species.
Many people don’t think techniques matter much when fishing through a hole in the ice. But sometimes success is the product of a worm or Powerbait hanging motionless while at other times it might take a jig with a lot of movement to elicit a strike from a fish. When you go to new places, it is best to have at least one rod rigged with bait and another with a jig. There are nuanced techniques to catch kokanee, lake trout, bass, or crappie through the ice. If you’re after these species and haven’t fished for them before, spend some time on the internet getting tips from videos.
A piece of equipment that is very helpful is a slip bobber with a bobber stop. This combination allows an angler to keep their bait at a specific depth and provides fish with minimum resistance when they take your lure. Even if you are jigging, the bobber will go up and down the line but hold the lure in place when you stop moving it; this is often when a fish will bite. In contrast, you can hold your rod, but the fish will immediately sense pressure and be more likely to drop the lure or bait.
Winter caught fish are great to eat. Even if the fish was originally raised in a hatchery, after a couple months in a lake they have eaten enough natural food to make their flesh a great meal. The nice thing about ice fishing season is it allows you to spend the morning with the family on the ice and then with them in the evening around the dinner table. In my mind, there are few better ways to spend a winter day.