Ice fishing dangers are few, but worth noting

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Last week, this column was dedicated to how to go about boring a hole through the frozen surface of a high Sierra lake and fishing for trout.

Any potential danger to venturing onto a huge slab of ice wasn’t mentioned. However, if it has been a good winter with considerable snow and cold weather, at the prime times, ice on many lakes will be more than a foot thick, easily enough to support you and your equipment. In fact, the surface will easily support your weight and everybody else.

But there is an obvious danger or two that must be addressed. Occasionally, there are reports of ice breaking and anglers lost to the cold water. That can be easily avoided.

For one, don’t be too anxious to go ice fishing if there is any question as to the integrity of the ice. If there has been a spate of warm weather, as we’ve experienced the past month or so, then ice fishing isn’t recommended until the conditions change, although some lakes are being fished through ice now.

I always packed on trips – in addition to the requisite fishing equipment – a catalytic heater for a “just in case.” Only once was that heater required, when a friend and I went ice fishing at Boca Reservoir.

The part of the lake where the ice integrity will be first lost will be nearest the shoreline. The water is the shallowest, and with sunrays beating down and warming that water, the ice becomes anything from mushy to gone altogether.

Even breaking through ice in 12 inches of water isn’t fun. Once on the lake, it was fine. But near shore, planks eventually were laid out to avoid the soft ice, and the plank allowed access to where the ice was thick enough to support the weight.

When Tom went through near shore, knee deep, he was thankful I had the catalytic heater.

And really, that’s the only real danger to ice fishing.

Current fishing
Lake Camanche:
The lake is hosting a major bass tourney March 19 for anybody who wants to give it a shot. It’s not a club thing and open to all regardless of age, skill and experience. There’s a $100 entrance fee with two big-fish options. There is expected to be an 80-percent payback, and one in every five boats will be paid. For information, contact Sean Senti at (209) 763-5121.

In the meantime, trout fishing remains the top action with Camanche planting thousands of pounds. Sterile, triploid rainbows grow big and fast. By boat and from shore, limits this time of year are common with some trout of true bragging size. Give it a shot.

Bassing tends to be tough, as it generally is this time of year. Bass can be mainly found in the warmer depths, down 30-40 feet. Jigs and plastics, when bounced right off their snouts, will generally get you bit.

Folsom Lake: The water level is perfect, and so was the weather through last weekend. With that combination, the bass have been cooperating. Good rod-bending action on smallies to four pounds and spots even going a little larger.  Find a rock pile on your scope and try drop-shotting down as much as 40 feet. Plastics in crawdad should get you bit. Don’t expect limits, but there’s been a pretty fair bite for those trying for trout-salmon. Troll by top-lining or dropping down no more than 25 feet.

American River: The river is in perfect fishing condition. Now, if only the steelhead would cooperate. Some nice adult steelies are being netted, but it’s a challenge getting them to bite. Many have given up. Keep tossing your offering and let it drift through the deeper holes, and hope for the best.

Lake Amador: Trout fishing is hot. Because of that, nobody is really trying for anything else. Most anglers walk away with three fish and some with limits. There’s no such thing here as a pan-sized fish. Most are running four pounds and some to eight. One angler tagged onto a 13-pounder. Just about anything you toss into the lake right now is working, from bait to lures.

Caples Lake: Two feet of ice on the lake’s surface make it easily a safe bet for ice fishing, and anglers are hauling up brown trout, rainbows and even mackinaw.

Sacramento River: You can launch at Verona or Knight’s Landing. There’s an occasional striper that will greedily grab your bait offering; however, the main action is sturgeon, mostly between Knight’s Landing downriver to Verona.

Collins Lake: The lake is starting its spring trout planting program earlier than normal. Plants will be made every two weeks until the middle of March, when plants will revert to weekly. Fishing has been slow but could explode at any time.

Contact George deVilbiss at