Ice fishing is a great way for a family to spend a winter day in the outdoors.
Many anglers bring their kids along and catching fish on some of these trips is not the priority.
Winter ice and snow means good sledding, ice skating and even cookouts on the frozen surface of Montana’s lakes. And, you just might catch some fish, too.
Montana offers some very good ice fishing and most of the time, the toughest part is deciding where to go.
There are really two kinds of methods of ice fishing and you can separate the two methods by talking about most lakes west of the mountains and those east of the mountains.
Western Montana lake anglers are content to sit on a bucket or in a portable icehouse and jig. For the most part, they are going after trout, perch, or salmon. Using glow hooks tipped with either maggots or corn seems to be the most popular choices.
This year, look for a number of lakes both north and south of Missoula to be popular spots.
Bitterroot Lake, just west of Kalispell, has a reputation for producing 16-18 inch kokanees. Flathead Lake ice fishing is best in the bays. The few boat anglers that brave Flathead for winter lake fishing can do also 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.
Browns Lake can also be a good spot to ice fish for trout right after the first ice is on. Last year, the trout bite continued well into January.
And Georgetown Lake is always a good bet for ice anglers. It ices up early and has 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 fish, I would recommend heading over to Canyon Ferry Lake or the Causeway on Hauser Reservoir. 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 or go 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. For up to date information on ice and fishing call Todd at Bob Wards in Helena.
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.
If you want to catch ling then Fort Peck Reservoir would be your best bet. In all the lakes with exception of Lake Frances you can use live minnows. Plus all the lakes allow you to fish with six unattended set lines per angler. A popular way to fish is to set up a mile or two long trap-line with the tip-ups.
Anglers who 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 quickly.
If you have any tips or information on ice fishing through the winter, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share them so everyone can enjoy a good time out on the winter ice.