The first steps onto a frozen lake are always a little sketchy, but with each crunch of my cleats on the black, shiny surface below, my anxiety dissipated.
There’s nothing quite like the first ice fishing trip of the season — especially to a legendary trophy fishery like Henry’s Lake in eastern Idaho.
I recently made the cross-state journey, meeting up with buddies Skyler and Justin along the way. Despite a long truck ride followed by a short night’s sleep in nearby Island Park, we were up long before the sun, crunching our way across the lake as a full moon reflected off its frozen façade.
Working quickly, we drilled and rigged up 15 holes before sunrise, which put us in prime position to capitalize on the dawn bite — a practice I wholeheartedly subscribe to during hard water season.
A streak of orange had barely crested the eastern mountains when Justin landed the first fish of the day. It was small cutthroat — a minnow by Henry’s standards, he said — but it was an encouraging sign.
Sure enough, rods started dancing all across our camp. It was the subtle, non-committal bite that drives ice anglers crazy, but we were ready. Skyler landed the next two fish, and then Justin hooked up again.
When my first bite came, I swung and missed. But as I reeled up to check my bait, I saw a fish giving chase and lowered the rod tip to send the jig back down. WHAM! I had my first hard water fish of the season, a gorgeous, 18-inch cutbow hybrid.
Watching a big trout destroy my lure right at the surface was awesome, but it was atypical on a day that saw far more soft, picky bites. Time after time, slight rod wiggles sent us penguin-running across the ice, only to have to wait — and wait, and wait — for the fish to commit. But more times than not, they eventually did, and I marked each catch on my ANGLR Bullseye.
Henry’s is an awesome place to ring in ice fishing season, and it has become an annual tradition for me. The lake often freezes before Thanksgiving, giving anglers a chance to scratch the itch far earlier than other popular fisheries. Henry’s also provides a rare opportunity to catch monster trout that can weigh more than 10 pounds, which means the stakes are high on every nibble.
There were no true monsters for our group this time, with most fish measuring between 14 and 18 inches. But there was no shortage of excitement — highlights included Skyler setting the hook so hard that a small trout came flying up onto the ice, Justin chasing down his ice shelter when a gust of wind tried to carry it off, and me missing a bite only to grab the line barehanded and set the hook the old-fashioned way.
One unusually large fish finally did join us when I landed a three-pound brook trout. The 18-inch beauty wasn’t unheard of for Henry’s — the state record caught there weighed over 7 pounds — but it was the biggest brookie I’ve ever caught.
In the end, we enjoyed perfect weather (apart from the occasional, shelter-stealing wind gust) and pulled 48 fish out of the ice. It was an epic day of catching that will almost certainly be difficult to top this season.
Not that it will keep me from trying.
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