By Montana Grant

Posted: November 15, 2020

Last year, several lakes around Southwest Montana froze up fast. I was ice fishing by Thanksgiving. The ice was 5-8 inches thick in the smaller high mountain lakes.

My first trips were the best in several ways. Sure, it was cold, but the fishing was hot! I used a hand auger to cut my early holes. A power auger weighs 20-30 pounds while a hand auger weighs under 10 pounds. Holes were quick and easy. Almost no snow was on the ice. Walking and sliding my sled was easy. No one was on the lakes. Hunting season was till in and I had the places to myself.

 First ice means hungry fish. There is plenty of light and the fish have not gone into an estivation cycle, like they do later in the winter. I fished from 10 to 3 each day for maximum light and comfort.

Once the fresh, clean ice is 5 inches or more, safety is not an issue. You want to be aware of any hot spring features, inlets, or unusual ice but honestly the ice is safer than the sloppy, layered ice later in the winter.

Fishing close to shore is often the best. Don’t be afraid to cut a few holes 10 feet off the bank in just a few feet of water. Short lining can fill long stringers.

I rarely keep trout all year except for in the winter. Ice caught trout are wonderful eaters. You can smoke them or use any favorite fish recipe. Perch and trout will patrol the shallows, and edges, at first ice.

Time to break out the ice gear early!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him ice fishing soon at

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