By Tom Curet, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Hey, folks - it's time to bundle up and get out on the ice for a day of fun; with the recent cold weather, conditions for ice fishing are improving daily.
Recent angler accounts from Jimmy Smith and Williams Lakes indicate fishing is very good. Fish in Jimmy Smith are averaging 11 to 12 inches with catch rates generally exceeding one fish per hour. That's considered pretty decent fishing.
Ice conditions at Jimmy Smith appear to be good, averaging more than 10 inches on the southeast side of the lake. Be aware, however, that ice conditions on other parts of the lake may not be as safe.
Anglers are encouraged to keep fish in Jimmy Smith as there is an over-abundance of rainbow trout, and harvesting these fish will help improve the overall condition of the fish population.
Jimmy Smith Lake, located within the East Fork of Salmon River drainage, is accessible by foot and ATV. Getting to the outlet of the lake is about a half-mile walk or ride from the trailhead on Big Lake Creek. Anglers should have success fishing with worms, corn, eggs, mealworms or PowerBait.
Reports indicate that ice fishing at Williams Lake is also good; but ice conditions are not yet entirely safe. Anglers are encouraged to keep their activities near shore and to have safety equipment on hand. Ice thickness is reported at only 4 to 5 inches in the near shore areas.
Gillnetting surveys conducted this fall in Williams Lake suggest that fishing should be good all winter. Catch rates in gill nets this past September were almost four times the average since 1992. Trout are suspended in the water column and favor PowerBait, worms or eggs.
As winter progresses, fish closer to the surface because oxygen levels in the lake tend to become depleted as spring approaches, thus confining fish to the upper portions of the lake. Move around if you are not finding fish and change bait often.
How thick does the ice need to be for safe angling? As a general rule, it takes about 4 inches of good, hard ice to support a person and about 6 to 8 inches to support an ATV or snow machine.
If the ice is frozen snow or slush, it needs to be thicker to be safe. Snow cover insulates the ice and keeps it from freezing as thick as an angler might assume. Do not fish on honeycombed ice.
It is very common for ice depth to be highly variable on a lake so be careful when exploring different fishing areas. Never assume the ice is thick enough without checking first. Rain-on-snow events will cause rapid melting of ice around the shoreline and near any hole cut in the ice and can change ice conditions rapidly.
Ice anglers are allowed to use up to five rods, lines or tip-ups while ice fishing with or without a two pole validation. As always, you must attend the lines at all times.
Anglers are not allowed to cut or to fish through a hole larger than 10 inches in diameter for safety purposes. And remember to buy a 2008 fishing license.
So, between bowl games and holiday visitors, sneak out for some fun on the ice this winter and enjoy all that the season has to offer Idaho's anglers.
Tom Curet is the regional fishery manager in Salmon.