Staying warm and catching fish with friends
A DWR aquatics biologist sets the record straight about ice fishing.
Chris Penne is an aquatics biologist in the DWR's Ogden office, where he specializes in reservoir and lake management. He works with a crew of six other biologists and is responsible for fish and amphibians in seven counties of northern utah.
ICE FISHING HAS an image problem. For most people, the first image that comes to mind when they think of ice fishing is this: a frozen lake covered with snow, and bitter cold temperatures. The flat surface of the lake is desolate with the exception of one stubborn old man who sits hunched over a hole in the ice, just waiting for a fish to bite.
If that’s the image that comes to mind when you think about ice fishing, you can forget about it. Ice fishing is nothing like that.
When I go ice fishing, I’m warm, I catch lots of fish and I have a great time with my friends. These are the reasons that ice fishing is one of my favorite ways to fish. In fact, ice fishing is one reason I look forward to winter each year. Let me explain.
It’s not too difficult to keep warm while ice fishing. It may be cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you have to be cold. You just have to dress for the conditions.
When I go ice fishing, I wear a good base layer under jeans and a sweatshirt. Then, I have insulated bibs and a winter jacket. Of course, I also wear a stocking hat and gloves. Rather than being cold, I’ve usually worked up a light sweat by the time I’ve hauled my gear down to the ice and out to where I’m going to fish.
In addition to dressing warm, it helps if you pick a day with good temperatures. At our mountain reservoirs, the temperatures usually dip below freezing at night and sit above freezing during the day. Some of the best days to go ice fishing are ones with temperatures in the low to mid 30s. On these days, you can usually fish without your jacket and gloves during the afternoon. Don’t get me wrong; when the temperatures are in the single digits, you’re going be cold if you’re not fishing in a tent. But, if you pick your day right, you’ll be enjoying the beautiful winter landscape in comfort.
Catching big fish
Out of the whole year, I often catch the most, and biggest, fish while I’m ice fishing. Just last weekend, my friends and I caught our limits of fish at two different reservoirs, all in the same day. We started at Pineview Reservoir, hoping to catch yellow perch. Pineview boasts an abundant yellow perch population, and within a couple of hours we each caught 50. When the action got really hot, I even caught a few doubles: two fish with two different lures on the same line!
Next, it was on to Causey Reservoir just past noon. Causey is home to tiger trout, rainbow trout, brown trout and kokanee salmon. In less than an hour, we were able to catch one cutthroat trout, one rainbow trout and roughly a dozen small, but beautiful, kokanee salmon.
It was a great day of fishing and is the perfect example of Utah’s diverse fishing opportunities. One minute, you can catch yellow perch at a warm water fishery like Pineview Reservoir. Less than an hour later, you can be at a cold water fishery like Causey Reservoir catching trout and salmon.
Spending time with friends
Ice fishing is a lot of fun to do with a friend or in a group. Because you only fish the area directly below yourself, groups can sit close enough to talk and socialize. Fishing close together can even have benefits when you’re targeting certain species. Some fish, like yellow perch, swim around in schools. A group of anglers has several lures in a small area, which often keeps a school’s interest more than a group of lures farther apart would.
I should also mention that winter is a good time of year to keep some fish. The cold weather means you don’t need to pack a cooler to keep your catch fresh. Many of Utah’s reservoir fish populations can benefit from anglers keeping fish, and they even need it to reach their full potential as fisheries. So, don’t be afraid to take a limit of fish home from time to time.
Well, there you have it. When you think about ice fishing from now on, you can think about great fishing and good times with friends. Better yet, don’t think about it! Go out and do some ice fishing of your own. You may find it’s warmer, faster and more fun than you ever thought.