The Fish Don’t Stop Biting in the Winter
Montana has some of the best fishing. We have mountain lakes that are packed with trout, rivers that have a whole host of species, and reservoirs that grow lunkers. During the summer we can get to most of these fishing spots pretty easily, and during the winter many of the rivers will stay open. For those who want to get out and do something a little more extreme this winter, ice fishing is the way to go.
The sport is simple in concept. You cut a hole in the ice. Then you sit next to the hole and fish. In actuality it takes a little more than that.
You can use some of your standard fishing gear to ice fish, but you will need some specialized equipment. While a chainsaw will cut holes in the ice, you legally cannot fish through a hole that is bigger than 144 square inches (12″ by 12″). In order to help make everything standard, anglers use an ice auger. Basically like a giant drill for the ice it will cut a nice round hole for you to use. Using a special scoop you can clear the ice shavings from the hole. Then you can sit on an overturned bucket or camp chair and using an ice fishing pole (like a regular pole but miniature) you jig a minnow or worm in hopes that a hungry fish will take the bait.
To get started ice fishing, you will probably want to go with someone who has the equipment already. There is no point in spending the money only to find that you don’t like fishing in the cold. And it generally is cold. A frozen lake doesn’t have trees or land features to block the wind, and of course it is the middle of winter so you need warm clothes and windbreakers to keep you from being miserable. Since you are not moving about nearly as much as when you fly fish or even spin cast, you might get a little bored. But when you pull your first fish out through a hole in the ice, you will be hooked (hopefully not literally). If you get too bored, you can always throw on a pair of ice skates, set a tip-up, and just enjoy a day on the (frozen) lake.
There are many places to try your luck that are close to Billings. Cooney Reservoir is only about an hour to the south, and Dead Man’s Basin is only about an hour and a half north. Head a little over 2 hours east and you will get to the Tongue River Reservoir, or shoot South-East and try to get to Bighorn Lake. There are so many small ponds and lakes around it would take pages to list them. You could check out hookandbullet.com and see what else is within a day’s drive.
If you want to get out there and see what the fuss is about, find a fishing partner and go for it. Just know that it isn’t for everyone. Some people get too cold, others get too bored. In order to walk on the ice it only needs to be a couple inches thick. In order to drive your truck on the ice it needs to be about 8 inches thick. So before you race out over the cold water, make sure you are not putting yourself in danger. Dress warmly so you don’t get hypothermia, and take plenty of hot beverages to keep your body temperature up. This winter, give ice fishing a shot. You might just find a new favorite winter past time.
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