A whole week with nothing to do but ice fish. A truck, an auger, some tip-ups – sort of an ice fishing road show. What more could an ice angler ask for?
Last week, Wayne Knudson (Walleye Wayne) and I topped the Continental Divide and headed east of the mountains for just such a week. We planned to start at Tiber Dam for a couple of days, then pick a new spot – wherever we wanted to go – heading further east based on the fishing reports and latest hot rumors for at other lakes.
So on Groundhog Day we pulled out of town and headed for the Oasis Bar in Shelby. Tom Flynn, who owns the bar, also sells live minnows. Minnows are a must on these Eastern Montana waters, luring the likes of walleyes, northern pike, ling and perch when using tip-ups. In fact you are able to fish six unattended lines per angler on Tiber Dam.
Tip-ups are classified as unattended lines. They have a spool of line that usually sits below the water that is attached to a triggering device. When a fish trips the trigger, a flag goes up so you know you have a bite.
With six tip-ups available per fisherman, this enables you to fish quite a few different areas of the lake at the same time – varying your spots from points to bays and from shallow water to deep. You can get an idea where the fish are located by the number of flags that go up, then concentrate your efforts on those areas.
But Tiber Dam, from Sunday night through Tuesday morning, didn’t offer us very many flags or fish. We drilled holes up and down the Willow Creek Arm and only came away with a northern pike, perch and a walleye.
None of the fish were big enough to keep, so we put them all back into the water with instructions to grow bigger!
The ice fishing road show moved on. We headed to Chester, in the heart of the Montana Hi-Line, to get some updated fsihing information. Chester is located about 15 miles from the Willow Creek campground so we didn’t have far to go.
We stopped and talked to Dallas Denter, at Hi-Line Cleaners. This might just be the only dry cleaning place in the world that also sells live minnows and has a modest selection of fishing tackle as well.
Denter told us that the walleyes were biting two weeks ago but lately he had not received any positive information to give us. Denter did say that if he were us, he would fish by the marina and fish the part of the lake that they call Miller’s Slough and Ray’s Bay.
We tucked that information away and made a call to Malta Marine, further along the Hi-Line in Malta, and were told that Nelson Reservoir, located about 20 miles further east was sort of hit and miss — with often more missing than hitting.
They also gave us a report from Fourchette Bay, on Fort Peck Reservoir, that sounded better. Fourchette is 60 miles south of Malta and we arrived there just in time to put out our lines Tuesday evening.
We also had a chance that evening to talk to some fellow anglers that had been ice-fishing there for a couple of days. The reports we got also made it sound like we also might have gotten to Fourchette Bay about a week too late.
We did catch a handlful of walleyes that weighed about a pound and half, but the bigger walleyes eluded us. Our biggest catches turned out to be ling, sometimes called burbot. We caught a about five nice size ling that made for some good eating back at camp. These may be some of the more homely-looking fish in Montana with their gaping toothless mouth and single scraggly whisker, but their fillets look great in the frying pan.
We packed everything up on Friday morning and headed back west toward Tiber again, with the idea that we would broadcast our Montana Outdoor Radio Show on Saturday morning from a hotel room in Chester.
We wound up fishing with a group from the Tri-Anglers Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited and visited with Dennis Hansen, from the Chester VFW, and Cliff and Nancy Nelson, who live in Joplin and used to run the Tiber Marina.
From Friday evening until Sunday morning, Miller’s Bottom on Tiber was home to about 100 tip-ups. Despite all the efforts, only about 20 fish were caught – one of them an eight-pound walleye.
All in all, our ice fishing road show last week was not the most productive of ventures in terms of bringing back fillets for the freezer. But in the people we met, the fishing we did, the places we visited and the chance to see Big Sky Country coated with snow and solid fishing ice, it was a great, great week of ice fishing.