It's getting to that time of the year where the ground turns white, fly rod eyelets start freezing, and it is near impossible to cast a “nine footer.” After picking ice out of the rod guides for an hour, one second-guesses whether it wise to put a hand in the crystallizing water to pull a fish out of the net.
As for me, to chase the many species of fish in this great state, I put the long rods away and pull out the short rods, ice hut, auger and, of course, the heater. The ice forming on the lakes gives every angler the advantage of using the entire lake without having a boat; the ice is your boat.
I usually start by finding some structure on a contour map (drop offs, old railroad beds, or channels) in the lake. As much as possible, I want to be close to where I have had success before. If you have never ice fished before, or if you have never fished a particular lake in the winter before, try what I do when no maps are available for the lake I want to fish. Your best bet is to drill, drill, and drill some more holes through the ice. I’ll start drilling holes about 20ft from the shore, get a depth, and if it’s 5ft or less, I’ll move out and drill another hole until I have holes from 8 to 20ft of water. Always look at the shore contours; the contours of land most likely extend out into the water. Give a location about a half hour, if no luck, it’s time to try another spot. Sometimes, you only have to move deeper or shallower. Other times, you have to move across the lake.
Many of your same lake flies, Chironomids, Callibaetis, and Annelids will work through the ice. Other options are small panfish jigs, tube jigs, Kastmasters, and jigging Rapalas tipped with a mealworm or wax worm. The best choices for all-around ice fishing conditions are 4-8lb test fluorocarbon lines. In water greater than 25ft, (i.e. when fishing for Mackinaw or salmon), use a braided or very low stretch line (e.g. Berkley “Sensation”), with the same 4-8lb leader. So when the ice forms, and you think it’s too cold to fly fish in an almost frozen river, sit in a warm hut on a spot of the lake you couldn't otherwise reach from shore.
Written by Cutthroat Anglers guide, Kory Lewis