Strawberry is the place to go if you want to catch big fish through the ice. The fishing has been fast, and a lot of 18-24 inchers are being caught.

Success at Strawberry usually starts out strong when the ice is new, then fades a bit as the season progresses. We expect the big reservoir to offer fair to good success for nice fish through the winter.

The ice was new when we visited the area on Dec. 21, and everyone was catching fish.

We found good, solid ice in the bays along Highway 40, thin ice around Strawberry Bay, and open water on the Soldier Creek side. Since then temperatures have been unseasonably mild. We expect the bays along the highway are fishable, but cannot predict what conditions will be like in other areas. Use extreme caution.

There is deep snow in the Strawberry Valley and access is difficult. Highway 40 is plowed regularly, but is often snowpacked and slick during and immediately after storms — which seem to be an everyday occurrence this year.

The road to Strawberry Bay is being plowed, but often has snowpack and ice. Ample parking is available at the marina.

No other area roads are being plowed on a consistent bases. Snow is usually too deep for 4X4 access to the dam or Haws Point.

From Highway 40 you can hike to the reservoir in several spots, but parking is a problem. Cars parked along the highway have caused problems from snowplows, and so vehicles parked outside of designated turnoffs are being ticketed. When we visited, parking areas had been cleared to allow access at Chicken Creek East, and at the Ladders.

The snow has been packed down to torm trails from parking areas to the ice. Even with the trails it is a moderately difficult hike. When you have to mush through new snow access becomes difficult. Even a short hike is exhausting. You often sink up to your waist in drifts.

Conditions are much better when you reach the ice. There has been about six inches of snow on the ice, with no slush in most areas, and so it is easy to move around.

Wind is often a problem at Strawberry. It can blow hard and cold, and make conditions miserable. The wind seems to blow less frequently during morning hours — and that's often which the best fishing takes place.

Ice shelters definitely make fishing more comfortable, but it can be a challenge dragging them to your fishing spot.

Snowmobiles are great for getting around the reservoir, but be extremely careful this season because ice is still not solid in many areas.

Fish the bays and coves.

Areas where the water is 15-20 feet deep seem to be most productive.

Many fish are suspended 5-10 feet off the bottom.

A fish finder can really help you determine where the fish are, and help you get your bait down to that exact depth.

The fish move around, so there will be periods when no fish will show on your screen, even when fishing a productive spot. But you should see fish regularly. If 20 minutes go by without a fish showing up, move to a different spot.

The portable Fishin Buddy II unit from Bottom Line has a side-finder function which is very useful. You can rotate the shaft and "see" to the sides of your hole, and thus determine if there are concentrations of fish a short distance away.

Jigs are very effective when ice fishing at Strawberry. Yellow, green, black, red or glow colored plastic or feathered jigs work well. Tip them with a minnow tail or piece of a nightcrawler and work them with short, infrequent movements.

Lures tipped with a minnow or crawler are also effective. Swedish pimples, Kastmasters, etc. The Rapala jigging lure is effective and does not need to be tipped with bait.

Powerbait, salmon eggs, worms and other standard baits work at times, but are not as effective as jigs.

For variety, try scuds, glo bugs, renegades and other patterns. Fish them much like you would bait, using a little weight to get them to the desired depth.

Strawberry offered incredible fishing through the summer and fall, and it looks like that pattern will continue this winter. Now's the time to get to the 'Berry for great winter action.