It was November 11— far too early for ice fishing, right? So I thought, until I drove by Puffer Lake and saw it was mostly frozen. I couldn't resist carefully probing the ice on the south end to see how thick it was. I found it was about two-and-a-half inches thick, giving me the confidence to gingerly make my way out a couple dozen yards and drill a hole.
The water was only about eight feet deep where I drilled my first hole. I fished there for a few minutes, with no luck, and then I ventured out a few feet further. Here the ice was still two and a half inches thick, and the water was about 15 feet deep. I dropped my hook to the bottom, cranked up two turns on my reel, and was rewarded with a strong bite.
I was shocked and surprised — I didn't really expect a fish to respond that quickly. I jerked up on my rod and pulled the hook completely out of the water. The fish must have been down their wondering what happened. I dropped my hook in again and soon discovered I had a "honey hole," one of those spots where you get a bite every few minutes, one fish after another.
Puffer Lake. . . Through the ice. . . In early November. An experience I never expected. I guess winter is coming, despite the mild weather we've enjoyed in the Salt Lake area. By early December many high elevation lakes will probably be frozen, and by Christmas ice fishing will be underway in ernest.
Puffer is located on Beaver Mountain, above Elk Meadows ski resort, at an elevation of about 9,672 feet. It's a small lake, surrounded by beautiful forests and meadows. It's stocked regularly, and usually offers good family fishing.
The fish I caught ranged from 8-12 inches. I caught them on the new Berkley Power Chow — brown nuggets formulated to smell and taste like the food trout eat in hatcheries. I've tested the chow on a couple occasions, and I've found it works well, even for larger fish that have been in the reservoir for more than a year. I suspect it will prove to be a very proficient ice fishing bait. I've caught fish with it when nothing else seems to work, and fish seem willing to hit it again and again.
My most productive rig consisted on a 1/16 ounce white jig head with a green skirted plastic jig, tipped with Power Chow. You can mold the nugget around the hook, and it stays on very well. (You don't need a treble hook to keep it on — just a regular bait hook.) I find half a nugget is about right for most situations.
I lower the jig until it touches bottom, then reel it in so it is suspended about a foot off the bottom. I let it sit completely still for a minute or two, then bounce it slightly if I haven't had a bite. After a white I'll raise it up a couple feet, and repeat this sequence until I've fished the entire water column.
If I don't get a bite within about 20 minutes I move to a new hole.
Location seems to be particularly important when ice fishing. I've tried in vain to catch fish in one spot, then moved five feet away and caught fish after fish. Don't just sit there all day.
Reservoirs often provide great fishing for the first couple weeks after they freeze solid, then the action slows. It's worth watching your favorite water, and getting out as soon as it becomes safe. But don't rush things. A couple inches of ice is marginally safe for a single fisherman, but certainly not for a group. At three inches you should be perfectly safe. However, there will be thin spots and slushy spots, particularly early and late in the season, so be careful.
Don't risk your life for a fish.