Ice fishing? It’s fun and so easy

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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A great many of the state’s lakes and reservoirs in the higher-elevation ranges of the Sierra freeze over in the winter.

While most waters remain inaccessible until the snow melts, others provide anglers with the usual water activity: fishing.

Forget what you might read in popular outdoor magazines about ice fishing in the upper Midwest. There are few similarities.

The biggest problem you’ll encounter is getting through the ice. In my early days of ice fishing, I saw anglers use axes and even chainsaws. Most sporting goods outlets in the high country carry the one thing you need to get through the ice quickly: an ice auger. It looks like a large hand-operated brace and bit and will bore a hole in a minute or two.

Ice fishing dictates you have no specialized gear other than what you would use for shore fishing when the lake isn’t frozen. Forget about the eastern and Midwestern tip-up rods. Not necessary.

If you have a two-rod stamp, you can bore two holes near each other and use a rod at each.

Some anglers jig a variety of lures, but most soak bait such as night crawlers, salmon eggs or Power Bait. Other than needing perhaps a pack of hooks, barrel and snap swivels and split-shot weights, not much else is needed.

Unless you want to stand the whole time, you might want to haul a bag chair on which to sit. I took a tackle box only to use as a rod holder, and a stringer or bag to transport the fish back to the vehicle. A strainer spoon is a useful tool to have to re-form ice scooped out for a clear hole.

We have to have a thermos of hot coffee or cocoa, and having lunch along means you won’t have to trek back to the vehicle to eat.

All the gear is beginning to add up, isn’t it? Pick up a cheap plastic sled, pile everything on, perhaps bungee cord the stuff down, and tow it all in one trip.

Just where do you bore a hole? If you’re going for the first time, you’ll be amazed at the number of people already on the lake. Their location will give you a general idea of where the action is.

Get in the general vicinity and “drop anchor.” Set up shop and get your hole bored.

If you were fishing from shore during the summer, I’d strongly recommend a sliding sinker rig because you’re casting out. Through the ice, I tie the hook directly to the line with a split-shot weight or two above the hook.

Let the line down until you hit bottom and then crank it up a bit to ensure your bait is just off the bottom. Put the rod across the tackle box with just the tip of the rod over the hole so the line goes straight down.

Now, kick back in your arm chair with a hot cup of coffee and wait for the trout to find your baited offering.

Sensing a bite when ice fishing is just like fishing from shore. If you balance the rod, the tip will head for the hole. If it isn’t balanced, the rod will bounce like crazy, indicating a fish is biting or has it and is going for a run.

Reel it up. Some fish caught through the ice get to be quite big. I’ve caught 20-inchers. Once you get the fish out of the water, get a net under it.

You don’t need a stringer ice fishing. Unhook the fish and lay it in the snow.

In the eastern and Midwestern states, they fish for pike, walleye, bass, sunfish and crappie. In California, it’s rainbow trout, German brown trout and now and then lake trout or mackinaw.

There are numerous lakes that provide easy access with roads cleared at least to the dams. Some of the more popular lakes for ice fishing include Boca Reservoir, Prosser Reservoir, Frenchman’s and Caples Lake. Donner Lake provides limited action.

Ice integrity is always a question, and it’s unnerving to walk across a lake and hear a cracking sound. That’s a natural phenomenon and is not a concern. As long as the ice is a minimum of 6-8 inches, you’ll have absolutely no problem.

And while the ice surface might support the weight of a snowmobile, don’t even think of doing what they do back east by attempting to take your vehicle onto the lake.

Because of a long break in winter weather, where temperature in the Sierra commonly was in the 50s during the day, the ice right now is just not safe enough.

Winter isn’t over, however. There will be more adverse weather with snow and lowering temperature.

I’ve successfully ice fished as late as April, so there is plenty of time left. I’ve also limited within an hour.

If you’ve ever wanted to give it a try, go for it. It really is a lot of fun.

Current fishing
Lake Pardee:
Remember, the lake opens to fishing Friday, Feb. 16, with the gates opening the day before for those wishing to camp.

Contact George deVilbiss at