Ice fishing season is now upon us. Our trust in the ice early in the season was undermined when an angler was rescued after taking a chilly mid-December swim in Mantua Reservoir. On Tuesday of the past week, however, I saw a couple brave (foolish?) anglers venture out on Hyrum Reservoir’s ice. Since this reservoir is often the last body of water in the Valley to freeze, fishermen and women peering down ice holes on this body of water means it is time to break out the short fishing rods.
Ice is generally safe to fish through when it’s four inches thick. Even when most the ice is safe, there can be areas near inlets, over seeps, and near shores of fast filling reservoirs that have thinner ice. This means early season anglers need to be cautious and travel paths across the ice others have already used.
Most fish hooked through ice are enticed by vertically jigging a lure, using bait, or a combination of these two approaches. Success in these methods require figuring out how much lure movement will induce a strike in a given reservoir at a specific time. Fish species such as trout, bass, perch and bluegill, prefer bait that is not moving or moving slowly. If you have never ice fished a species or lake before, minimizing lure or bait movement is generally a good starting strategy.
In most the small lakes in and around Cache Valley, a setup that allows fish to take a lure or bait a little distance before setting the hook will improve your success. This can be achieved by using a bobber stopper and a sliding bobber to determine the depth you want to fish. A properly sized bobber will let a fish take a bait or lure without feeling the resistance of the rod. This allows the angler to feel the weight of the fish before setting the hook.
Fish have a great sense of smell and cue on the chemical signature left by bait in the water. Scent diffuses slowly in cold water. This means how bait smells is important, but mostly when a fish is within a few feet of your hooks. Yellow perch and bluegill will seldom be caught without bait, as scent triggers these fish’s final strike. Trout are more likely than those species to consume a lure not tipped with bait, but even when targeting these fish, scent helps. The best baits to carry are worm, maggots, and a variety of PowerBait. Remember some lakes don’t allow bait and that “scented synthetic materials” are considered bait in Idaho while “scented jigs” are defined as bait in Utah.
The simplest rule in fishing is that to catch fish you need to be where they are. This sounds like an easy principle but the vast majority of the anglers I see drill only a few holes in a limited area during an ice fishing excursion. To determine where to start drilling you can take advantage of your knowledge of the reservoir and general fishing principles. But even with this information, take advantage of the rule that in most lakes Utah allows anglers two rods and Idaho permits five rods when ice fishing, to explore a broader area.
The ability to use multiple rods and bring friends makes it easier to find fish by simply spreading the rods around the ice. There are rules on how far you can be away from your rods. Utah’s regulation state that “While fishing, you must be within sight of the equipment you’re fishing with (this distance cannot exceed 100 feet).” The distance is less definitive in Idaho as the regulations state “You must attend to your fishing gear while fishing. This means being able to watch your rod at all times and be able to react to a potential strike.” If you keep moving, drilling new holes, changing the depths, varying the baits, and moving rods that have not caught fish, you have a much greater chance of finding the pattern that consistently catches fish.
Ice fishing is a great winter activity where bringing friends and family will add enjoyment and increase success. Furthermore, it’s outside at a time of year when you can see and feel the surrounding environment all while practicing social distancing. With everything that occurred last year, an ice fishing trip is a great way to ring in the New Year.