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Ice fishing heats up around Montana

With the winter season starting to turn around after a mild December, ice on many of the area’s smaller lakes is starting to thicken enough for ice fishing. Dick Zimmer, owner of Zimmer Tackle in Pablo, says the supposed La Niña winter hasn’t happened yet, but a cold November helped give area lakes a jump start on icing up.

“Consistent cold put ice on the smaller lakes,” Zimmer said. “But we haven’t had any extreme cold yet. Warm weather last week makes people a little hesitant to go out on the ice, but we will get cold soon.”

Zimmer says before going out on the ice, take a look at the weather to make sure it’s cold enough, as thawing and refreezing ice can cause the ice to honeycomb, which is extremely dangerous.

“If it’s reasonably cold, two inches of ice is safe,” Zimmer said. “East Bay has been on and off; some people have been fishing it for three weeks now, and a guy caught six lake trout up to 28 inches long.”

Other hot spots include Turtle Lake, which Zimmer says is the best right now for yellow perch. Kicking Horse Reservoir is also a good option to catch rainbow and brown trout, along with yellow perch.

“Kicking Horse is a good bet,” Zimmer said. “The perch aren’t as big, but the rainbows and browns do real good in there.”

Crow Reservoir is also a popular location, offering anglers the opportunity to catch suckerfish and squawfish along with rainbow and brown trout.

Other ice fishing options include Swan, Lindbergh, and Thompson Lakes. On Flathead Lake, Zimmer says shallow water fishing produces the best numbers of big fish, while fishing around 220 to 320 feet deep produces smaller, but better tasting fish because they feed on shrimp.

“There are lots of big lake trout around Stone Quarry Bay on the northwest side of Polson Bay,” Zimmer said. “That’s something for people to look forward to.”

Of all the area lakes, Pablo Reservoir appears to be the best bet for ice fishing this winter, but anglers must wait until the waterfowl hunting season ends Jan. 13 to get out on the ice. The reservoir’s recent fish productivity is a result of draining the reservoir more than five years ago to allow work to be done.

“They eliminated a huge population of fish and put some in a small pond,” he said. “The population has steadily grown since then. We’re also seeing good growth rate, and the numbers are back up. You could fill a 5-gallon bucket (with fish).”

Zimmer says to always bring ice picks for your arms, so if you do fall through, you will have something to pull yourself back up onto the ice. 

“If you fall through the ice, you have no grip and can’t pull yourself back up,” he said. “You’re also hindered by water-soaked, heavy clothing, which is as heavy as one-third your body weight.”

Also, if you know you’ll be encountering thin ice, Zimmer says it’s better to use an ice spud instead of an auger to cut a fishing hole.

Those interested in ice fishing have numerous opportunies to get in the action at local fishing derbies in the coming months. The Perch Assault on Middle Thompson Lake will be held Jan. 14, while the Lodge at McGregor Lake will be holding its annual fishing derby on Feb. 11. Lake Mary Ronan will host the Snappy Sport Senter 12th annual Lake Mary Ronan Derby Feb. 18.


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