Ice fishing a great way to spend a day
By Hookemharry

Posted: December 20, 2005

Ice fishing is a great way to spend a day.

A lot of anglers bring their kids along. It’s a chance for family fun. And often, catching fish on some of these trips is not the priority.

Montana offers some great ice fishing and, most of the time, the toughest part of ice fishing is deciding where to go.

There are really two methods of ice fishing and you really can separate them by talking about most lakes west of the mountains and east of the mountains in Montana.

Western Montana lake anglers are content to sit on a bucket or in a portable icehouse 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 of choices for them.

This year, 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 also 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 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 also produced pike but the larger ones have seem 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 get 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 to early January.

East of Harpers Lake, by Ovando, Browns Lake is good fishing for trout when the first ice goes 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-sized 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. 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. For up to date information on ice and fishing, call 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 and walleye, with perch in some of them as well.

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 6- 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 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