The Arctic Art of Ice Fishing

With hundreds of lakes dotting the landscape, the Flathead Valley boasts a strong tradition of winter angling

By Dillon Tabish
The 43rd annual Sunriser Lions Smith Lake Ice Fishing Derby on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Even in the cold, snowy days of winter, fishing is still a popular pastime in Montana, especially in this corner of the state.

The abundant selection of lakes across the region provides ample opportunities for ice fishing.

Huddled around a hole in the ice may seem like a lonely sport devoid of action, but give it a try before you judge. Bring friends and family and enjoy the outdoors or relax and escape the confines of cabin fever during these long, dark days.

Smith Lake west of Kalispell is a popular place for anglers to chase pike and perch. Rogers Lake is ideal for grayling and trout. Other popular sites that freeze over early are Echo Lake, the three Thompson Lakes and Upper and Lower Stillwater lakes. Also, there are Ashley and Bitterroot lakes, two other spots close to town that offer a wide-open landscape with enough room for everyone.

Just standing atop crystal-clear ice can be an experience in itself. Spencer Lake west of Whitefish can be a perfect place to glide across idyllic sheets of ice.

Of course, you have to take safety precautions before stepping out there. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials recommend 4 to 6 inches of solid ice, while also factoring in weather and water conditions. It’s also recommended to fish with at least one other person.

Once you’ve found your spot, use an ice auger to cut a circular hole in the ice before scooping floating ice chips from your spot. Then all you need is a simple rod, lure and bait.

Don’t forget to dress in warm, winter clothing and bring an empty bucket or old lawn chair to sit on. A fishing license is required.

Often, fish caught from under the ice have a fresher taste, meaning the bounty is well worth the time spent out in the cold.

For those interested in learning how to ice fish or sharpening up old skills, Snappy Sport Senter is hosting the 10th annual Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Expo this weekend. The event is Saturday, Dec. 5 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with several seminars and presentations, including discussions on pike spearing and trophy lake trout tactics. Also, some of the best tournament ice fishermen in the nation will be in attendance offers tips throughout the day.

For more information, call 257-7525.