Ice Fishing Primer
Quick Find: Rainbows, Cutthroat, Browns, Splake, Lake Trout, Perch, Crappie, Bluegill, Largemouth Bass, White Bass/Wipers, Tiger Muskie
(Published Dec., 2001, Utah Outdoors magazine)
Jim Gunderson became passionate about fishing when he was just two years old, and he's enthusiastically pursued the sport ever since. So it was natural for him to settle into a job where he’s required to go fishing on a regular basis. He’s a salesman and product buyer for Fish Tech Outfitters, and the company philosophy requires employees to participate in the sport. During a typical workday he plays with new products, helps people select gear, shares information and listens to fish stories. Periodically, he slips out and works on practical application — he’s very proficient at actually catching fish.
Gunderson likes all kinds of fishing, but he’s particularly passionate about ice fishing. He likes the variety of fish that can be caught through the ice; he consistently catches rainbows, cutts, splake, perch, crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, even lake trout and tiger muskie. He also likes the simplicity of ice fishing. With a minimum of equipment, mostly inexpensive, anyone can get out and catch fish. Grab some bait, throw a little gear into a 5-gallon bucket, and you’re off. You don’t need a $500 fly rod or a $30,000 bass boat.
Utah Outdoors asked Gunderson to share insights and tips about ice fishing, and he was happy to cooperate. He said two products, a portable fish finder and a power auger, have really helped him increase his catch rate. A good sonar unit will show fish, the bottom, and your lure, allowing you to zero in on productive areas. “Because the unit is stationary, you can see fish approach your lure, and see them strike,” he said. ”It’s exciting.”
Too much patience is not a virtue when ice fishing. “If I don’t catch a fish within 15 minutes, or at least see promising images on the fish finder, I move,” Gunderson said. “Often moving just a few feet will make a big difference in success. With a power auger, I don’t hesitate to punch a lot of holes.”
Gunderson said he enjoys the social aspect of ice fishing. “Friends can fish together, staying close enough to talk, without stepping on each other’s toes. But I always avoid large groups of people. The commotion of many people drilling holes, with kids running around, scares the fish. I'll always walk away from groups.”
Because of the variety of fish it offers, Pineview is one of Gunderson’s favorite fishing holes. He has become very good at using specific tactics to target a particular species, and he usually catches the fish he’s after. But one day, while fishing for perch with light tackle, a big tiger muskie hit his small lure. “There was no way to know what I had on until it bent my rod double,” he said. “That was the biggest thrill I’ve ever had while ice fishing.”
Gunderson provided the specific information given below. If you have questions or want more detail, talk to him at Fish Tech. He’s always happy to talk shop.
Top waters: Strawberry, Scofield, Fish Lake, Jordanelle, East Canyon.
Best lures: Smaller plastic or feathered jigs, smaller spoons (less than 1.5 inches long), ice flies. Good colors include white, glow, chartreuse, smoke, silver and gold.
Baits: Tip lures with night crawlers, salmon eggs, Powerbait.
Action: Experiment to determine what works. Start with short movements, allowing the lure to come to rest briefly between jigs.
Tips: Bigger rainbows can be found along the edges of weeds, particularly where points extend out into the weed beds. Look for well-defined edges on weed beds, in water less than 20 feet deep. You can often see the edges by looking into the water. Sonar will also show the edges of weed beds, and show fish.
Top waters: Strawbrerry, Bear Lake, Current Creek.
Best lures: Larger (up to five inches long) spoons or plastic jigs. Productive colors include white, glow, chartreuse, smoke, silver, gold.
Baits: Tip with wax worms, mealworms, night crawlers, frozen minnows, cut bait.
Action: Varies from trip to trip. These fish are aggressive and a moderate, inconsistent lure movement is usually effective.
Tips: Use larger lures early in the season, then downsize as the season progresses. Fish points. Find them by studying the shoreline (the same features you see above the water will usually extend below the surface). The longer the point, the better, because points concentrate fish. Start shallow and try different spots, working your way out into deeper water.
Top waters: Jordanelle, Rockport, Deer Creek.
Best lures: Larger (up to five inches long) spoons, plastic jigs (tubes or grubs). Good colors include white, glow, chartreuse, smoke, silver, gold, perch.
Baits: Wax worms, mealworms, night crawlers, frozen minnows, cut bait.
Action: These fish are aggressive and an active but inconsistent lure movement can be effective.
Tips: Look for browns along vertical walls, near the bottom, in water 50-70 feet deep.
Top waters: Fish Lake, Joes Valley.
Best lures: Spoons, plastic and feathered jigs (up to four inches long), ice flies. Good colors include white, glow, chartreuse, smoke, silver, gold, perch.
Baits: Sucker meat, perch (where legal), frozen minnows, mealworms.
Action: Very aggressive lure movement, with pauses.
Tips: These fish range widely; they may be found anywhere from 5-100 feet deep. Use a fish finder or trial and error to search them out. You will often find active fish adjacent to weed beds or suspended over open water down 20-40 feet.
Top waters: Flaming Gorge, Fish Lake, Bear Lake.
Best lures: Spoons, plastic and feathered jigs (up to eight inches long). Productive colors include white, pearl, glow, chartreuse, crayfish, perch, silver and gold.
Baits: Tip with a frozen minnow or cut bait (perch or cisco, where allowed).
Action: A continuous jigging action, with pauses every 10-12 jigs.
Tips: Electronics definitely increase your odds of finding active lake trout. These fish are usually down 60-120 feet and stay close to the bottom over humps, troughs or points. Because of the great depth, non-stretch lines are important to get a good hook set. The new super lines are very effective. The fish will usually take the hook as the lure is falling, and you will detect the strike by noticing your line has gone limp before the lure reaches the bottom. At Flaming Gorge, lake trout migrate north during the winter; the best areas will be from Anvil north. A map of the lake will help you identify likely spots. Early morning hours will be most productive.
Top waters: Pineview, Deer Creek, Jordanelle, Fish Lake, Newton, Yuba (some years).
Best lures: Smaller spoons and plastic jigs (up to 1.5 inches long), ice flies. Color is important: try chartreuse, orange, glow, yellow or gold.
Baits: Piece of night crawler, colored larva, mealworms, cut bait, perch meat (where legal).
Action: Light lure movement (not as much as for trout). Experiment to see what mood they are in. If fishing is slow, let your lure sit right on the bottom (but keep your line tight).
Tips: I seldom catch a perch that isn't within three feet of the bottom. Work your way straight out from shore, over deeper and deeper water, until you find the depth of the fish. When you find a school, fishing can be easy and fast. This is a great fish for youngsters to catch.
Top waters: Pineview, Newton, Willard Bay.
Best lures: Small spoons (up to 1.5 inches) and ice flies. Good colors include chartreuse, glow, black, pint and orange.
Baits: Wax worms, colored larva. Scents help; try Smelly Jelly or similar products in crawfish, anchovy or banana.
Action: Give your lure just a little movement.
Tips: A fish finder can really help locate these fish, which will be suspended over deep water. Small bobbers are very helpful to detect strikes, which will be delicate. Bobber stops allow you to quickly return your lure to the proper depth.
Top waters: Pelican Lake, Pineview, Newton, Holmes Creek.
Best lures: Small spoons and plastic jigs (up to one inch long), ice flies. Black, purple, chartreuse and glow are good colors.
Baits: Piece of a night crawler, colored larva, mealworms.
Action: Light lure movement.
Tips: At Pelican Lake, fish the edge of the weeds. (After storms, they may be right in the weeds.) At Pineview, they will be grouped near the dam, in water 25–50 feet deep, near the bottom, but not right on the bottom.
Top waters: Pelican Lake, Newton, Hyrum, Utah Lake, Deer Creek.
Best lures: Spoons, plastic jigs with feathers or tentacles (up to three inches long), bushy ice flies. Good colors include black, chartreuse, gold, purple, glow.
Baits: Tip lures with wax worms, night crawlers or mealworms.
Action: Largemouth stay aggressive, even in the winter. Give spoons a consistent action. With jigs or ice flies, rest them on the bottom, keeping your line tight, and just twitch them.
Tips: At Pelican Lake and other waters with vegetation, fish the pockets between the reeds, staying in shallow water. Look for fish near brush or weeds that are adjacent to deeper water. Fish broken rock structure if there is little vegetation. The fish will usually be near the bottom, often down 15–40 feet.
Top waters: Utah Lake for white bass; Willard for wipers.
Best lures: Spoons, blade baits, plastic and feathered jigs (up to three inches long). Good colors include silver, white, chartreuse, red, blue, glow.
Baits: When these fish are aggressive, you don't need to tip lures. When the bite is slow, try cut bait, wax worms or night crawlers.
Action: Aggressive jigging action.
Tips: The best fishing usually takes place during the first month after ice-over. These fish travel in schools; action can be very good as the school moves through, then slow until another school comes by. When action is slow, switch to smaller lures tipped with bait. Look for fish in marinas and along dikes.
Top waters: Pineview, Newton.
Best lures: Larger jigs and spoons.
Baits: Tip your lure with pieces of perch or other cut bait. (A new regulation for Pineview and Newton prohibits the use of fish chunks larger than one square inch. Read the proclamation.)
Action: Aggressive movement; or just let it sit in a tip-up.
Tips: These fish move freely and can be difficult to find. Fishing is never fast, but the thrill of catching one justifies hours of effort. Most muskie caught through the ice are hooked inadvertently by people fishing for other species. Get a second pole permit and rig a tip-up for tigers while you are fishing for perch. Use steel leader or one of the new super lines. Suspend a minnow 10-30 feet below the surface, off a point, or over open water near a school of perch. If you have your drag set correctly, and you play them right, you can usually get tigers up to the ice. It’s pretty hard getting a big tiger through an eight-inch hole, so the fish often come off at that point. Use extreme care if you try to pull them through, since their teeth are razor sharp.