If you haven't tried ice fishing in Idaho yet, you're missing out on a winter activity that is not only fun and inexpensive, it's a great way to catch lots of tasty fish.
Ice fishing starts in the fall in some of Idaho's chilliest locations, but it's usually not until December or January that the ice is thick enough to fish in most parts of the state. Three to four inches of solid ice is the minimum to support a person, and thicker ice is needed for groups. Here's more information about ice fishing safety.
Because Idaho is so diverse geographically, when ice fishing starts, as well as how long it lasts, varies by location. Conditions can also change quickly, so use good judgment before heading out on the ice, and remember you’re responsible for your own safety.
Here are the top reasons why you should go ice fishing:
Ice fishing is a good reason to get outside during winter
Winter can give us all a nasty case of cabin fever, and that might be particularly true for 2020. Unlike many other activities that make you wait until spring, you can keep fishing during winter. A day on the ice is not just another fishing trip, it’s a whole different fishing experience, and it's a great way to get out, recreate responsibly and enjoy some socially distanced fun.
It’s surprisingly beginner friendly
Ice fishing may seem specialized, and part of it is because it’s the only type of fishing that requires an ice auger. But aside from that, nearly any fishing gear will work. You can also build your own ice fishing tackle for a reasonable price. If you decide to buy your gear, an ice fishing rod/reel combo is inexpensive, and honestly, a lot of fun to fish with because even a modest-sized fish feels big. After that, all you need is a hook, weight and bait. You can make it as simple or as sophisticated as you want. Check out Fish and Game's ice fishing page for more information about ice fishing basics, where you can ice fish and important safety information.
Ice fishing can be a combination of fishing and tailgating
The fishing part is always fun, but you can add more fun with the tailgating part. Bring a camping stove or grill, some food, your favorite beverages, camp chairs, a heater, etc. The only challenge is getting all your gear out on the ice, but an inexpensive kids’ plastic toboggan can haul a surprising amount of stuff. If you have a snowmobile or ATV, there are trailers and sleds that are great for hauling more cargo.
You can take the whole family along
There’s no shortage of space on a frozen lake when there’s adequate ice thickness. That’s not always the case when you’re trying squeeze people into a boat, or even limited bank space. The whole lake, reservoir, or pond is available, meaning you and your family have plenty of room to maintain social distance from other groups. Naturally, everyone should be dressed for the weather, and bring lots of snacks and warm drinks for the kids. They love ice fishing because they can play and have fun on the ice if fishing is a little slow.
The fish taste better
That may sound like an old wive’s tale, or a boast by ice anglers, but there’s scientific evidence that it’s true. The “muddy” taste you sometimes hear about from fish can be caused by blue green algae, which can proliferate during warmer months. Blue green algae is gone, or greatly diminished, in cold and frigid water, so it no longer affects the fishes' taste. You can catch a batch of them and have an awesome fish fry. Ice fishing is traditionally about catching fish for eating, so indulge, but stay within the bag limits, which you can find in the fishing rules booklet.
It’s not as cold as it might seem
There’s no getting around it: it’s winter and you’re standing on a sheet of ice. But think of it as the opposite of the old cliche “but it’s a dry heat.” On a calm, sunny day, it can be amazingly comfortable on the ice, even when the thermometer is showing single digits. Part of that is the radiant heat from the sun, and the other part is dressing in layers so you can add and subtract clothing and adapt if conditions change.
Fishing can be fast, furious and fun
Like all fishing, there are no guarantees the fish will bite, but ice fishing is different than other types of fishing because you can fish up to five lines at once. When the fish start biting, it can be fast paced because you’re trying to hook and land fish and keep all the lines baited and in the water. When you experience that first hand, you will understand why people look forward to ice fishing.
Idaho has ice fishing in nearly every part of the state
No matter where you live, an ice fishing destination is probably within a couple hour’s drive and likely no more than three hours. If you don’t live near one, make it a weekend trip and stay at a motel, or if you have an RV, check if there’s a place to stay (preferably with electric hookups to run a heater). Think of it as a mini vacation and a fun winter get away.