As the winter season approaches, it’s time to gear up for those cold weather activities. From sledding to ice fishing, there’s so many ways to enjoy the frosty season here in Montana. As I just mentioned, ice fishing will come into full swing as soon as the lakes freeze over. If you’ve never ice fished before, fret not. Krawdaddy’s gonna give you some tips and tricks to get started.
WHERE TO ICE FISH
When finding a place to ice fish, make sure that your expedition is well informed. Specifically for ice fishing in Montana, check out the Fish, Wildlife and Parks article on the matter. On this site you can also find safety tips, beginner’s guides and the fishing regulations.
The best places to ice fish in Montana vary depending on month and what you’re fishing for. For instance, if you’re trying for Lake Trout in February, Swan Lake is the place to be. Or perhaps you’re looking for some Cutthroat Trout in January! Your best bet for that combo of things will be Cad Lake. For a comprehensive chart, click this link!
WHAT TO WEAR
As you might imagine, ice fishing can be very cold. However, keeping your layers lightweight can make it so you won’t be overheating after a laborious drill, and could even mean you’re lighter underwater too.. If it should come to that. Let’s avoid taking a dip, though, shall we?
You’ll definitely want some waterproof boots, with wool or synthetic socks underneath. Long Johns are your friends, so make sure you have a layer of underwear that spans across your entire body. Then, put on a full outfit on top of this. A good, long sleeve shirt, comfortable pants, etc. Overotop this, you’re gonna want some waterproof bibs, and a winter coat. Then, we can accessorize with the essentials. A warm hate and gloves, a neck gaiter, hand warmers and some knee pads will go a long way in terms of comfort.
The first step you’ll wanna take before drilling into the ice and trying your luck is determining the thickness of the ice. You’ll wanna be thicker than 2”, but thinner than 10”. The sweet spot is about 4 inches or less, which is okay for walking and drilling. Clear black ice is the preference, and you should be vigilantly aware of the thickness of ice upon which you stand. I’m serious, maybe even have someone designated to the job.
Never go out alone, and consider wearing brightly colored clothing, and holding onto a rope attached to shore if you can. Every body of water will be freezing at different rates, and so will different areas of the body of water. The South side is likely to freeze more quickly because there’s less direct sunlight. Same goes for shallow vs deep. The deeper the water, the less likely it is to be frozen all the way through.
FIRE IN THE HOLE!
Alright, not literally. Okay, sometimes literally. However, if it’s your first time, I’d advise having a guide come with you that knows how to drill. If not, try to find a pre-drilled hole that you can pick away safely. Once you’re in, you’ll want to bait your trap and get it set up to signal you. Many species are cruising just below the ice, so once your trap is baited up and ready to go, keep a watchful eye. It’s a good idea to check in on these traps often anyway, because you don’t want to lose out on a nice fish if something isn’t working right.
Somehow, you’ll want to keep your bait fresh through the entire process. Most species of fish will be found near the bottom of the water, so sounding the hole will ensure that you know how deep you should be placing bait. Make sure throughout the session that your holes are not freezing over. A frozen hole just ain’t no good, am I right? Chisels are great tools as well as ice picks.
Gas powered augers are expensive, but definitely the most convenient and effective tool. A sled to drag your gear in, as well as a sounding device, and traction cleats are important additions to your ice fishing tool kit.
Alright, that’ll do it for me on this topic. For more info, there’s plenty of amazing resources. Check out On the Water’s piece here. Angela Montana also has a great video linked on Montana Ice Fishing as well, so check that out. Best of luck and happy fishing!