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Cold ice means hot fishing

Cold weather has arrived and it's one of the best times to catch fish.

Part 1

Editor's note: The story below is the first in a four-part series about a fun activity to do in Utah in the winter — ice fishing! The series explains the benefits of fishing through the ice and provides tips to get beginning anglers started. Experienced anglers should learn something too. Part one: Cold ice, hot fishing, part two: Basic equipment, part three: Finding the right depth, part four: Close to home

Don't put your fishing gear away yet. If you do, you might miss some of the best fishing of the year.

A pile of frozen yellow perch

Winter is a great time to fish for yellow perch in Utah.

Photo courtesy of Ray Schelble

That's right — those "crazy" people you see standing on the ice at waters across Utah in the winter aren't so crazy after all. They know a layer of cold ice means hot fishing in the water just under it.

"You can set your watch by it," says Drew Cushing, warm water sport fisheries coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "When ice starts to form on a body of water, the fish under the ice get very active. And they're eager to bite."

Cushing says that eagerness to bite often continues through the winter.

You can stay updated on where fishing is best in Utah this winter at wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots.

A cheap and fun way to fish

Cushing says fishing on the ice gives anglers several advantages:

  • If you're willing to walk, you can reach any part of the lake or reservoir you want to fish.

    Cushing calls ice "the great equalizer." "In the winter," he says, "you don't need a boat or a float tube to reach certain parts of a body of water. If you have a rod and a reel, and you're willing to walk, you can reach any part of the water you want to fish."

  • Catching fish in the winter doesn't require the skill needed to catch fish during other times of the year. Just drop your bait in front of the fish, and wait for the fish to take it.
  • You don't need a lot of expensive equipment. A short rod and reel, some hooks and wax worms or meal worms, and a digging bar or an ice auger are all you need to get started.

    If you like to fish with lures, you may want to include a few ice flies and small jigs in your tackle box too.

  • Because you can dig two holes close together, ice fishing is a great way to double your fun by fishing with two poles. Just make sure you have a two-pole permit before you dip your second line in the water.
  • In addition to catching fish, you and those you're fishing with can talk and socialize. Just drill your holes close together, and have fun. "Most ice anglers really look forward to the social side of ice fishing," Cushing says.

Sounds great. But isn't it hard to drill a hole through the ice?

One thing that surprises many first-time ice anglers is how easy it is to drill a hole through the ice.

Cushing says if you have a hand auger, you can drill through six to eight inches of ice in about a minute. "It'll take a little longer if you use a digging bar," he says, "but not much."

Digging bars cost between $5 and $10. Manual ice augers cost about $50.

Great! But how can I have fun if I'm cold?

Temperatures can be cold during the ice-fishing season. But that doesn't mean you have to be cold. You can stay warm simply by dressing for the conditions.

Cushing says one piece of equipment that anglers often forget is a pair of waterproof boots. As the day warms, slush can develop on top of the ice. "Having a pair of waterproof boots will keep your feet warm and dry," he says.

Sounds good. But how do I know if the ice is safe to walk on?

Most anglers wait until the ice is at least 4 inches thick before walking on it.

Ice is usually thinnest near the shore. Before you walk out, Cushing says you should stay close to the shore and dig or drill a test hole to see how thick the ice is. You may also want to dig or drill some additional holes as you walk out.

If you find that the ice in your test holes is at least four inches thick, you can be almost certain that the ice farther out is at least four inches thick, or thicker.

Ice cleats and ice spikes are two ice-related items you may want to consider buying:

  • You can strap the ice cleats to the bottom of your boots. The cleats will give you better traction as you walk on the ice.
  • Ice spikes are two short pieces of metal. They're often attached by a short cord that you can drape over your neck.

If you fall through the ice, you can pull yourself out by jabbing the spikes into the top of the ice near the edge of the hole and then using the spikes to pull yourself out.

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