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Rodriguez: Ice, ice maybe? A beginner's guide to ice fishing

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Ice fishing

Don’t be afraid to give ice fishing a shot — it is relatively easy and inexpensive to get started, and catching big fish through the ice is an experience you’ll never forget.

Ice fishing carries a level of novelty and intrigue for readers. I get lots of fishing questions throughout the year, but it seems like the inquiries pick up every winter when lakes start to freeze.

When is it safe to go on the ice? Are there special rules? What kinds of fish can you catch? How much gear to you need? The list goes on.

So, I’m dedicating this column to some ice fishing basics and helpful tips that I have learned through the years. From Magic and Mormon to Roseworth and Fish Creek, there are plenty of frozen lakes in the Magic Valley region right now. Get out there and give it a shot!

Safety first! Ice fishing is not without its dangers, so I recommend fishing with a group, or at least a partner. As a general rule, four inches of ice is safe for a small group of anglers on foot. At eight to ten inches, it becomes safe for snowmobiles and other small ATVs. No matter how thick the ice gets, I would never recommend driving cars or trucks on it. The consequences of losing a vehicle through the ice just aren’t worth the risk. In addition to ice safety, be sure to dress in warm layers and wear ice cleats to avoid slips and falls. In extreme cold, a shelter and/or buddy heater make great companions.

Gear up! From automatic jigging rods to underwater fish finding electronics, there are lots of cool gadgets to choose from. But for starters, all you really need is an auger, an ice scoop, some poles and a handful of small jigs. Mini ice fishing rods are relatively inexpensive, and since most Idaho waters allow five per angler, it’s a good idea to start a collection. I like to keep mine in rod holders so they don’t get pulled through the ice. There’s nothing wrong with using regular-sized rods, either—whatever it takes to maximize your chances! If you decide to get serious about ice fishing, you might also invest in a flasher. These cool sonar devices have a video game-like interface that allows you to identify fish underwater and watch them approach your jigs on a lighted dial display.

Stay active! I see some anglers go out, set up a bunch of rods and let them sit for hours on end. That might work, but ice fishing is usually much more effective if you work at it. Every angler should constantly jig at least one rod, rotating through to give each lure some life. Check and change your baits (worms, corn, marshmallows, Power Bait, mealworms and cut bait) often. And if the fish aren’t biting, keep moving and drilling new holes. Once you catch a fish, stay put until they stop biting. Ice fishing action often comes in spurts. A flasher also comes in handy for identifying spots where fish are present.

Stick with it! Even for experienced anglers, ice fishing can be a challenge. The key is to keep at it. Once you learn the nuances and find some success, you’ll be hooked! Here’s a trade secret for lakes that contain perch, like Magic and Cascade: Perch-colored jigs tipped with a small piece of perch meat can be a deadly combo. Both perch and trout have a hard time resisting a tasty-looking baby perch!

The only way to truly learn how to ice fish is to get out and do it. If you want to learn more, check out this in-depth ice fishing quick start guide I recently wrote for

Stay safe, stay warm, and tight lines!


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