President Jim Vashro
While I’m writing this a 30 MPH wind is driving rain and 36 degree temperatures. Not exactly great ice fishing weather! A couple of early cold snaps laid down some ice but this weather is thinning it out. So far this is a repeat of 2019. Then mild weather limited ice fishing options early, then heavy snow in March produced miserable slush. Despite all that we had some fun ice fishing.
Ice fishing is a great break in the winter, some exercise to work off those holiday pounds, a chance to get outdoors with family and friends, and a chance for non-boaters to get to fish perch and kokanee. Add to that, a combination of low oxygen at depth and brighter light from above will compress fish like kokanee into a narrow layer. If you can figure out where that band is, you can have unbelievably fast fishing and the fish out of cold water are tops for eating. Northwest Montana is a top ice fishing area. Although the fish aren’t always large, action can be fast. One-third to ½ of all the fishing on some lakes occurs during winter. Perch and kokanee are the most sought after but anglers also chase pike, lake trout, rainbows and cutthroats, crappie and lake whitefish.
Always practice Safety First! Cold water really decreases your ability to function. What would be an inconvenient dunk in summer can become life threatening in a few minutes in winter. First and last ice provides some of the best fishing but also marginal conditions. Two of our party broke through the ice near shore on our last ice fishing trip last spring, we cut it a little too close. But the kokanee bite was hot.
Always let someone know where you’re going. Better yet, go fishing with a friend. Stay apart walking out and stay to the beaten path. If you explore, drill test hoes as you go. Carry lifesaving ice picks around your neck, they won’t do you any good in your sled. Carry a throw rope. Commercial models are available but you can make ice picks out of wooden dowel, cord and cut-off nails and a throw rope out of 50’ of polypropylene rope (it floats) tied to a plastic jug. Carry – and use – ice creepers. I’ve seen people with broken arms and head concussions from spills. On a recent rip the lake looked like an ice rink and creepers were the only way to move.
If you already ice fish, introduce someone to the sport. Pictured are FWI members Kendal and Shelly Bortisser, daughter and boyfriend, all on their first ice fishing expedition. Tony Anderson provided the expertise, we both provided equipment and they all caught fish, had fun and enjoyed fresh fish for dinner. FWI’s Bill Nyberg, wife and I took some other beginners out on another first trip. The weather was pretty nice but the chill eventually set in for some. A portable ice shack and heater quickly warmed things up.
Introduce new people to the outdoors. It makes the trips more fun and attracts more people who will help fight to protect our outdoor heritage. I’ll be teaching a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) ice fishing workshop this winter. I really enjoy teaching the women, ranging from age 18 to 80. Younger women are looking for new outdoor opportunities. Too often raising a family limits opportunities to get out. So I get a lot of women who have raised their families and are now looking for new activities or looking to take up where they left off 20 years ago. Many fished with a boyfriend/husband/Dad that are now gone. Guys don’t always make the best teachers, we tend to “Do” instead of “Teach”. So many women want to learn the skills so they can be more self-sufficient. They welcome the confidence to know they can go on their own and be safe and successful. Two women from last year’s BOW ice fishing workshop really took it to heart and made numerous trips afterwards, catching a pile of fish and having fun. That’s what Success looks like. Introduce someone to the outdoors.
The preceding opinions are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.