Blank stares into holes in the ice, uncontrolled shivering, numbness in the feet and hands (maybe in the brain)...it must be ice fishing season again. Most waters in the Idaho Panhandle are open to ice fishing. However, before we get far into the discussion it is important anyone interested in ice fishing carefully review the regulations for dates and species or size restrictions on the many waters in our area. Once you know if the regulations for the water you like to fish, the question which most needs an answer is how much and what kind of ice will safely support anglers and their equipment? The safe load that ice will bear is not dependent entirely on its thickness, but there are some reliable rules of thumb. A minimum of three inches of clear, blue ice, and preferably four inches, will support a single angler, and five inches will hold several anglers in single file. Eight inches is needed for safe operation of a snowmobile. If you want to drive your truck on the ice, please travel to Minnesota. N. Idaho ice is never safe for that. Thickness is not the only consideration. How the ice formed and weather following formation are important to integrity of ice. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice, so anglers should double the minimum thickness figures when encountering such conditions. Last week, I had a report that Fernan Lake, one of the most popular lakes for ice fishing, had an unusual ice layer. There was a 'slush sandwich'. Two inches of ice were on top of two inches of slush over two inches of additional ice. Well out in the lake, the ice was observed at only two inches total, certainly not safe to walk on or fish from. Ice weakens with age. Late in the season, when it turns dark and gets "honeycombed," it's time to quit for the season. A cold snap sometimes halts the deterioration, but honeycombed ice will never refreeze to its original strength. Any lake with moving water in it, whether from an inlet canal, springs, groundwater seepages or an outlet, should be regarded with skepticism. Water movement, no matter how slight, retards freezing, often leaving hard-to-detect thin spots. Be suspicious of any discolored ice. Imbedded materials, such as weeds or logs, also weaken ice, and large objects in or on the ice, such as abandoned duck blinds or ice shanties, can absorb the sun's heat and weaken ice. Ice near shore may also be weakened by heat from the ground. Anglers, skaters, snowmobilers etc. need to keep in mind that a sudden warm spell can change conditions quickly and that caution must always be used before venturing forth on ice covered lakes. If the weather changes, conditions can quickly change. N. Idaho offers some excellent ice fishing for yellow perch and northern pike. Also available at times are crappie, bluegill, bass, cutthroat, rainbow and kokanee. Mornings and evenings are often the most productive fishing times, with slow periods in the middle of the day. For yellow perch and other panfish, auger a few holes until you find a spot about 20-25 feet deep and fish just above the bottom using maggots, cut bait or black maribou jigs. Occasional movement of your bait or lure seems to be triggering strikes. Those who prefer to catch or eat trout should fish three-15' deep. Any type of the bait additives which add scent or color will likely improve your success. Places where action should be good (provided the ice is solid) include Avondale, Upper Twin, Cocolalla, Rose, and Fernan Lakes. Try Medicine and Killarney for pike, also Hayden and Coeur d'Alene for pike when well frozen. Use smelt or herring 3-4 feet below the ice. When ice conditions permit, try Spirit Lake for kokanee in the very early morning. The limit on Spirit lake is 15 kokanee, and the season is open only through February 15. Kokanee school up, so look for other anglers catching fish and without crowding them too much, auger a hole nearby. Use a bead chain with a maggot tipped glow hook. Ice anglers are permitted five lines, however any more than two or three are difficult to keep baited and watched at any particular time. Holes may be no more than ten inches in diameter for safety reasons. I remember taking a call once from an angler complaining that the fish were too big because he couldn't get them through the ten inch hole. I told him I'd better check it out for myself, but he wouldn't tell me where he was fishing! After safety considerations, the second most important thing to remember is that a new license was required as of January 1st. Good luck, be safe and stay warm. For more information, call 1-800-ASK-FISH or look us up on the web.