Ice Fishing Basics
We have a tale of two lakes with South Fork Reservoir having more open water than ice, while Wildhorse Reservoir is covered with approximately nine inches of good hard clear ice with a skiff of snow on top. With the recent winds, there are also large patches of slick ice, so anglers should be wearing some form of traction on their boots.
Ice fishing is good at Wildhorse and with little changes at other area waters in eastern Nevada, we are going to take this week to talk about how to ice fish.
For those anglers new to ice fishing, you are in for a surprise. It is relaxing, quite easy and much more social than its warm weather cousin. Contrary to popular myth, ice anglers can use pretty much the same gear that they use during the summer with just a few minor exceptions.
To get started in ice fishing, you basically need a rod, terminal tackle, a way cut a hole through the ice and something to skim the ice off of the water in the hole. Anything else, as far as fishing gear goes, is a bonus.
When I was younger, I used my ultralight rod for ice fishing and many anglers use their full sized rods for ice fishing, though a shorter ice fishing rod makes it easier to reel in a fish through the hole. These are generally around 18 to 30 inches in length and have a small reel loaded with fishing line developed to stay limp in cold weather.
Today you can buy a basic hand powered ice auger for between $70 and $100. There are two types of augers, the spoon and the blade auger. I prefer the blade as it seems to cut the ice faster and with less effort. In the hands of a reasonably fit person you can cut a hole in the nine inches of ice that’s at Wildhorse in a minute or two or three. The trick is to keep the blades sharp, which is easier to do with a blade auger. You can also replace the blades on a blade auger while you can’t on a spoon auger.
In Nevada, for the purposes of ice fishing, the maximum size hole you can cut in the ice is 10 inches. Obviously the larger the diameter of the hole, the more ice you are cutting through and therefore the more energy and time it takes to cut the hole. Most anglers like to use an 8” auger. If money is no object, gas powered augers are available starting at about $300 and going all the way up to $1200. However, the newest trend is a device that turns your 18 or 20 volt cordless drill into an ice auger for about $150 to $200.
The next question is, where should the hole in the ice be cut? If you are unfamiliar with a lake, the best bet is to either ask someone who knows the lake or look for areas where lots of holes have already been cut. Chances are those holes are there for a reason.
So the hole is cut in the ice. Now what? To target trout, suspend a hook tipped with PowerBait, worms, corn or marshmallows several feet below the ice about halfway between the ice and the bottom. Place a small sinker about 8 to 10 inches above the hook to help get the presentation down into the water column.
The water in the ice fishing hole will soon start to freeze over making fishing difficult. Anglers will use a specially made ladle with holes in it to clear the slush from the hole. You can also use an inexpensive slotted vegetable spoon with the same results. Whichever device you use, tie some string between it and your chair so that if you drop it, it doesn’t sink to the bottom.
Other considerations for ice fishing include the very important act of staying warm. Well insulated waterproof boots are a must. For those on a budget, many department stores carry snow boots with a felt liner that are reasonably priced. These aren’t great for hiking, but they work well when standing or sitting on the ice waiting for a strike.
Obviously a good coat and wool gloves are also a must. Your hands are going to get wet, and wool will still hold warmth when it is wet. There are also a number of portable ice shelters on the market, starting around $150 that can protect you from the elements if it is snowing and blowing. Combine one with a portable propane heater and you can be comfortable on even the coldest day.
A plastic sled to carry your gear onto the ice with makes life easier. A five-gallon bucket with a padded lid can double both as a chair and as a container to carry your fish or gear off the ice with. Sun block is especially important on sunny days as your face will get a double whammy of sun as it reflects off of the snow or ice. Finally, a good thermos full of hot cocoa or coffee and munchies will make the day much more enjoyable.
At Wildhorse fishing has been fair to good off of the state park and in the Hendricks Arm, which is north of the state park. Best fishing seems to be in water that is six to eight feet deep, suspending your bait a couple of feet below the ice and slowly moving it down in the water column until you start getting bites.
The great thing about taking your family ice fishing is that it’s simple and there are generally other seasoned ice anglers around willing to help out and share their experience. Wildhorse State Park campground is open and they have groomed a great ice skating rink that you may use when the fishing is slow.
The lake is ice covered and the road to Angel Lake is closed. There will be no more fishing reports until late next spring or early summer depending upon winter conditions.
Cave Lake is covered with ice that is approximately four to five inches of good clear ice. Care should still be taken. However, with forecast cold nights in single digits to teens, ice thickness should continue to grow.
No recent report. At last report the lake was approximately 85% ice. Consider the ice unsafe.
Illipah is now ice covered with approximately an inch and a half of unsafe ice.
Jakes Creek is covered with five inches of good hard clear ice. The ice is extremely slick, so take care walking on it. There were no signs of anyone fishing the lake so we have no report on fishing conditions.
Jiggs is iced over with very unsafe ice. NDOW runs an aerator through the winter to keep winter mortality on the fish down making this reservoir unsafe for ice fishing. There won’t be a fishing report until spring.
With the cold temperatures, the streams are all icing up, especially the slow running pools and beaver ponds. Streambanks are very slick with ice and snow. Many of the streams aren’t reporting flows due to ice and snow and fishing is difficult. Fish are lethargic due to the colder temps and presentations must be slowed down. Travel to both Jarbidge and the Bruneau is now through Idaho.
HIGH ALPINE LAKES
Most of the lakes are iced up and travel is not recommended. There will be no further fishing reports on the high mountain lakes until next spring or early summer depending upon the winter.
The south marsh is frozen near the boat ramp with unsafe ice. The collection ditch is also freezing over, though open water can be found in the pond behind the hatchery and wherever there are springs in the ditch. Small spinners, minnow imitators, nymphs and buggers are the way to go now. As of the writing of this report, it was still snowing, so no report on whether Harrison Pass will be open this weekend.
South Fork is completely covered with unsafe ice. With the lower elevation and southwest exposure anglers should wait until New Years before venturing upon South Fork.
Due to a damaged outflow structure, the lake has completely drained.
No recent report, but conditions here are often similar to South Fork, so expect it to be covered with unsafe ice. Anglers should also expect 4WD roads only due to snow.