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Sitting on a frozen lake, staring down into a hole in the ice, willing a fish to bite may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But ice fishing isn’t just about the catch. It is an opportunity to get outside in the fresh air in the depths of winter. Ice fishing is about camaraderie. It is a chance to see the landscape in a different way and enjoy the quiet that comes with a blanket of snow.
Ice fishing is gaining popularity in the McCall area with Lake Cascade being a hot spot for cold-weather trophy fish. If ice fishing is something you have been tempted to try, the good news is that it is surprisingly beginner friendly. We asked Cody Fox, helicopter short haul emergency medical technician with the Forest Service, for some pointers to get us newbies out on the ice with a line in the water this winter.
#1 Let’s start with the obvious question: why would anyone want to go ice fishing?
“The biggest reason is getting outside,” says Fox. When those dark days of winter hit or the weather isn’t conducive to a powder day on the mountain, ice fishing provides a way to get some outdoor time with friends and family. Some would even say ice fishing is akin to tailgating…it is all about how you set up your space. Bringing a camp stove, chairs, some snacks and beverages of choice can make a day on the ice more like a party.
No matter how you set up your space, the fish are another big reason ice fishing is so fun. “We also live in a really interesting fishery,” says Fox. From perch to trophy lake trout, the thrill of the catch is reason enough to try your luck.
#2 What equipment do you need to get started?
One of the reasons ice fishing is taking off is the ease of entry. “All you really need,” says Fox, “is an ice fishing rod, a hook and some bait, an auger, a bucket, and warm clothes.” From there, the sky is the limit. “If you want to up your game, you can set up an ice tent, bring a heater, a fish finder, chairs, food, drinks and more,” says Fox. But be warned, the more things you bring, the more you have to haul. Many avid fishermen will use a snowmobile or ice sled to haul their gear.
When it comes to bait, Fox says you can’t go wrong with a hook and a worm, but there is a huge assortment of jigs, weights and tackle to choose from. Fox recommends stopping into a local shop like Tackle Toms in Cascade for expert advice on what the fish are biting.
Regardless of which lure you use or what equipment you bring, Fox says the one key is to respect other anglers. “Respecting other people’s space, packing out what you pack in, being courteous, and generally being a good human is the most important thing.”
#3 Where are some prime winter fishing spots around McCall?
“Lake Cascade is becoming much more known in the ice fishing industry and is definitely gaining popularity,” says Fox. It is a prime body of water for perch and holds the title for the largest Yellow Perch caught in the state of Idaho. Along with the state record, Lake Cascade has produced two national record fish. For a family outing, Fox recommends Horsetheif Reservoir for a chance to catch some lake trout. “You can even find some deep pockets for lake trout on Payette Lake,” says Fox. “They can actually be pretty active in the winter months.”
#4 What are some of the safety concerns we should be aware of?
The obvious answer here is, of course, ice. “Ice conditions are really important to understand,” says Fox. “Even if you have checked the ice report, take the information with a grain of salt. Ice conditions can change.” The best season for ice fishing is late January to early March. In the spring, ice conditions can start to degrade and even if the ice is thick, the structural integrity can become compromised.
This is especially important, Fox says, if you are riding a snowmobile. Keeping speeds slow to avoid pressure cracks is crucial. Plus, a snowmobile can be challenging if conditions are slushy. An ice condition report can be found on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s website and is also posted locally by Lake Cascade State Park and many of the local outdoor shops.
“The other concern while ice fishing is visibility,” says Fox. Flat light and fog can make it easy to get turned around on the ice and difficult to see other people. Fox recommends bringing GPS, either on your phone or on a portable GPS unit and always keeping a watchful eye out for other anglers.
#5 What is your best ice fishing “fish tale?”
“That one is easy,” says Fox. “Watching my two-year-old daughter catch her first perch on the ice was amazing…and it was a good one!”
Looking for a way to ice fish for a good cause? Each year the Wildland Firefighter Foundation hosts a fishing tournament on Lake Cascade, “Deep Freeze for Firefighters.” This event is held the Saturday before Super Bowl and along with the fishing tournament, includes a raffle and live and silent auction. All of the money raised goes toward supporting the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty and assisting injured firefighters and their families.
For more information on the 2021 event, visit wffoundation.org.