When it comes to fishing some anglers believe that the most productive way to catch more fish is through the ice.
There is some basis for this. Winter can be a great time to catch many species – trout, perch, salmon, walleyes among them.
Regardless of what you may think, the technology that the modern day ice fisherman has at his or her disposal certainly will help them out.
The portable ice shacks are lighter to transport and easier to set up. Inexpensive fish-finders are easy to carry along and will show if there are any fish to catch beneath your ice hole. You can even buy a underwater camera and watch as the fish as the fish swim by your baited hook or grab it for you to reel them in.
Even gas ice-augers are priced right and enable you to fish more of the lake than ever before by drilling holes in seconds rather than with the dependable hand auger.
Yes, spending a day on he ice with your family can be a lot of fun. A lot of anglers bring their kids along and catching fish on some of these trips is not the priority – it’s a social affair.
Montana offers some of the best ice fishing and most of the time the toughest part of ice fishing is deciding where to go.
There are really two kinds of methods of ice fishing and you pretty easily separate the two by talking about most lakes west of the mountains and those east of the mountains in Montana.
Western Montana lake anglers are content to sit on a bucket or in a portable icehouse with a short fishing rod in their hand and jig. They, for the most part, are going after trout, perch, or salmon.
Using glow hooks tipped with either maggots or corn seems to be the most popular choice.
This year if we get some cold temperatures for a change look for a number of lakes both north and south of Missoula to be popular spots once again for anglers to fish through the ice.
Bitterroot Lake, which is just west of Kalispell, has a reputation for producing 16-18 inch kokanee salmon. Flathead lake ice fishing is best in the bays when there is ice.
The few boat anglers that brave Flathead for winter lake fishing can do well for lake trout. The water level goes down in the winter but you can still use the Blue Bay boat ramp to put your boat in the water. The east bay for perch ice fishing seems to be the best but don’t look for it to ice over until late January.
Lake Mary Ronan is also a great lake to ice fish for perch and sometimes salmon. Crow Reservoir can also be good for trout and small mouth bass. For current fishing and ice conditions on these lakes, call Dick Zimmer 406-675-0068.
Northern Pike anglers will head to Salmon Lake fishing tip-ups with smelt. Seeley Lake has produced pike but the larger ones have seemed to be taken by anglers in spear huts.
Trout anglers on Seeley Lake have done real well when they plant jumbo trout that are spawned out from the local fish hatchery in Arlee. Your best bet would be to use a needlefish or weighted spoon and if you can make it there when they dump them in the lake you will have a ball. It takes about 30 minutes for the trout to acclimated after they hit the water but after that time, hold on because the bite will be on. They also will dump trout in Harpers Lake as well. I would recommend calling the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks office get the schedule for planting trout in those two lakes. Normally the plants have taken place around late December early January.
East of Harpers Lake by Ovando, Browns Lake is good fishing for trout with first ice on. Georgetown Lake is always a good bet for ice anglers. It ices up early and stays with good ice most of the winter.
Anglers like to jig with glow hooks tipped with maggots. Small kokanees and pretty good size trout usually take advantage of their offerings through the ice.
East of the mountains if you want to jig ice fish, then I would recommend heading over to Canyon Ferry Lake or the Causeway on Hauser. Both lakes do a good job of producing perch for ice anglers.
I would fish the south end by the Silos on Canyon Ferry Lake and I would anywhere up the Causeway on Hauser for perch. You might also luck out and get into a good walleye bite when you’re fishing the Causeway on Hauser.
Walleye fishing is more of a challenge on Canyon Ferry Lake, but some local anglers have had success when they hit it just right.
The Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir, next to Hauser Lake, has also produced some good bites through the winter for kokanee salmon.
Tip-up anglers can have their choice of fishing Lake Frances by Valier, Tiber Dam north of Great Falls, Nelson Reservoir east of Malta and of course Fort Peck Reservoir.
All these lakes offer good northern pike, walleye, and perch fishing, in fact just recently a new state record walleye was caught by Missoula angler Bob Hart while fishing Tiber Reservoir. Hart was fishing from shore in November and estimated that his minnow that he was using for bait was in about 30 feet of water.
If you want to catch ling, then Fort Peck Reservoir would be your best bet.
Many lakes east of the mountains allow you to fish with 6- unattended setlines per angler. A popular way to fish is to set up a mile or two long trap-line with the tip-ups. Anglers that ice fish this way put each line in a different depth of water at first then move most of their tip-ups to the depth that seems to be producing the best results.
As always use extreme caution when you are ice fishing as ice conditions can change very quick.
If you have any tips or information on ice fishing through the winter please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.