Ice Fishing in Idaho

Ice fishing is a great way to be outdoors in the winter. All you need to get started is warm clothes, a few pieces of equipment and a place to go. It’s also important to know how to be safe, comfortable and successful.

Three sisters dressed for ice fishing on Cocolalla Lake
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Ryan Hardy

Safety First!

Ice conditions vary with the weather and can change quickly, especially in late winter. The best way to check the ice is to drill a test hole before venturing too far out.

General rules for ice safety are:

When drilling test holes or fishing holes, keep them less than ten inches wide.  This is for safety of other anglers who might step in or fall through abandoned holes that have just skimmed over with ice.

  • three to four inches of solid ice will support a person
  • ten inches of solid ice are needed to support an ATV or snow machine
     

Using a hand auger to drill holes in the ice on Upper Twin Lake
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Antone Kom

Clothing and Equipment

Dressing in layers is the best way to prepare for any outdoor activity. Heavy soled boots, insulated overalls, gloves and hats are all recommended clothing for ice fishing.

A few specific tools are extremely helpful for ice fishing:

  • An auger. A hand-held type is efficient and relatively inexpensive. Keep the blades sharp.
  • A slotted ladle. A ladle helps keep your fishing hole free of ice.
  • Jigging rods. You may wish to purchase a short jigging rod or and an ice-fishing tip-up at your sporting goods store. If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person, an old rod tip with a handle attached and simple device to hold the line will work just as well.
  • Bait and tackle. For a start, a tackle kit might consist of some Swedish Pimples, glow hooks, jigs or ice flies. They generally work best tipped with some type of bait such as maggots, perch eyes, worms or cut bait.
  • A large bucket. This is great for carrying equipment to the fishing site and back. It can also serve as a seat while tending rods.
     

Boy Scouts jigging through the ice for perch
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Idaho Fish and Game

Technique

The most common fish pursued are perch and trout, though bluegill, kokanee and crappie are also possible.

  • You may need to try fishing different depths to find fish. Generally perch like deeper water (10 to 40 feet) and can be found close to the bottom. Trout will often be found a bit further up from the bottom.
  • A clip on sinker is handy for determining water depth and adjusting the depth of your lure.
  • Jigging is an effective ice fishing technique. To jig, slowly bring the rig up about one foot then allow it to settle back down, and repeat. The movement of the bait attracts a fish’s attention.Some anglers prefer to just set the line and watch for a strike.
  • Perch, bluegill and crappie are delicate biters under the ice and small hooks, small bobbers and a delicate touch are often needed to land a fish.
  • If a little while there are no strikes, you may want to move and try your luck in another spot.
  • Perch, especially, are a schooling fish. Once you find them the action will be fast.
     

Three brothers in a perch-fest on Cascade Lake
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Idaho Fish and Game

Rules and Regulations

Ice fishing rules are slightly different than general fishing for public safety and general crowding. Be sure to check the official fishing regulations booklet for details.

  • An angler can fish with up to five poles or lines at a time, and have up to five hooks per line. All lines must be attended by the angler. A two-pole validation does not allow more than five lines while ice fishing. Some waters are managed under special rules that limit the number of poles or bait while ice fishing, so be sure to check fishing regulations for exceptions.
  • Statewide daily trout limit is six fish. There is no limit on perch, bluegill or crappie. Check the rules for the waters you are fishing for any special regulations that may apply.
  • Fishing is allowed only through a hole up to 10 inches in diameter.
  • There are no restrictions on the number of holes.
  • Gaff hooks may be used only to land fish through a hole cut or broken in the ice in waters that have no length restrictions or harvest closures for that species.
  • Anglers who use any enclosure or shelter for ice fishing and plan to leave it unattended overnight on the ice, must have the owner’s name, telephone number, and current address legibly marked on two opposing sides. Shelters must be removed from the ice before the spring thaw.
     

Pink girl, black sled - ice fishing in Panhandle of Idaho
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Idaho Fish and Game

Good Places to Go Ice Fishing in Idaho...

Each part of the state has a few waters where anglers commonly go ice fishing. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Panhandle Region:  Fernan, Round, Kelso, Smith, Cocolalla, Hauser, Twin lakes and Spirit lakes.
  • Clearwater Region: Winchester Lake, Spring Valley and Elk Creek reservoirs.
  • Southwest Region: Mann Creek, Blacks Creek, Lake Lowell reservoirs and Bruneau arm of C.J. Strike Reservoir.
  • McCall Subregion: Horsethief and Cascade reservoirs, Warm Lake.
  • Magic Valley Region:  Magic, Salmon Falls Creek, Little Wood, Dog Creek and Roseworth reservoirs, Lake Walcott and Dierkes Lake.
  • Southeast Region:  Deep Creek, Chesterfield, Devils Creek, Foster, Blackfoot, Weston, Lamont, Treasurton, Glendale, Hawkins and Johnson reservoirs, American Falls Reservoir at Sportsman Park, Edson Fichter Pond, Twin Lakes and Bear Lake.
  • Upper Snake Region: Mackay and Ashton reservoirs, Roberts, Victor Kids and Becker (Ryder Park) ponds.
  • Salmon Region:  Jimmy Smith, Williams and Stanley lakes.

Directions and more information on these waters can be found using the Idaho Fishing Planner.

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