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Ice fishing primer: Who’s ready to hit the hard deck?

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Ice Fishing Primer

Lakes across southern Idaho are finally freezing over — and anglers can take advantage with cool catches through the ice, like this big rainbow trout caught by Caleb Nichols.

Once upon a time, I was a winter Grinch. Cold temps and short days aren’t a great combination for outdoor fun, and spending too much time inside makes me cranky.

Then I discovered ice fishing. It took me a couple seasons to get dialed in on catching fish consistently, but it really is a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience. Now, I look forward to winter.

Thanks to our recent cold snap, ice fishing season has kicked off across much of Idaho. Here are a few things I’m looking forward to:

The Anticipation: I always get excited for a fishing trip, but since ice fishing is only available for a couple of months each year, I get REALLY excited. As usual, I ushered in ice season at Henrys Lake in eastern Idaho, which freezes early and is home to trophy cutthroat and brook trout. The night we arrived in Island Park, my friends and I meticulously tied on lures, prepared bait, and detailed our plan of attack. Then, we slept for just a few hours until…

Zero-Dark-Thirty: I wake up early for plenty of fishing excursions, but with ice fishing, starting before sunrise is often vital to success. There’s also something super cool and peaceful about being the first group on a frozen lake. In the calm silence, we drilled our holes with the glow of our headlamps and Vexilar flashers lighting the way. We landed several trout before dawn, but the fun was only beginning…

Working the Problem: Ice fishing can be fickle. Even when it’s good, there are riddles to solve. For some reason, certain rods seem to get all the action, while others go untouched (Idaho allows five rods per angler for ice fishing). Early in the morning, my buddy Skyler was on fire, while Caleb and Justin were catching fewer fish, but some giants. I was in between—a steady catch rate, but nothing over 16 inches. I tweaked a few setups and drilled a new line of holes in deeper water. That decision paid off with a…

Fire Drill: Going on an ice fishing hot streak is THE BEST. At about 1:30 p.m., my line of rods—including the one I recently custom-built—started going off, one after another. I could scarcely keep up with the bites! Land a fish. Drop the lure back down. Race off to grab another wiggling rod. Set the hook. Land the fish. Drop the lure…nope! Gotta go grab another one! At one point, I released a fish and looked up to see all five of my rods laying on the ice, in need of new bait and resetting. In an hour’s time, I had caught more fish than the entire morning combined! But the action wasn’t over yet…

Tug-of-War: Around 3 p.m., I set the hook and felt the familiar power of a heavy fish peeling line off the reel. I chuckled as my 28-inch ice rod bent from tip to handle. “Serious business here, boys!” I called to my companions. Catching big fish on an ice rod is equal parts thrilling and nerve-wracking. With such light gear, all you can do is hang on, maintain tension and try to keep your line off the ice edges. When the time comes—and with this fish, it took a while—a partner is needed to help hoist the giant through an eight-inch hole in the ice. With an assist from Justin, I finally got my hands on 5.3 pounds of stunning Yellowstone cutthroat. That fish alone would have been worth the trip to Henrys—and ice fishing season is off to a heck of a start. Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures and questions with him at, or visit for the latest local fishing reports and upcoming class offerings.


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