Hardwater Fishing in Washington 101
Eric Magnuson, January 10, 2021
Believe it or not, but Northeastern, and North Central Washington actually sit in what is called the ice belt. The Ice Belt stretches across the Mid-West to Central Washington, and cuts sharp North into Canada. We are fortunate to sit where we do in this upper North corner of Washington State. We absolutely have the four seasons, with winter being one that many welcome with open arms. Some of us anglers see it as an opportunity to chase certain species, in certain times and conditions.
It is that time of year again when many of us anglers put away the long rods and pull the short ones out. We all start to become armchair meteorologists and start to fallow weather patterns like Al Roker. We drive countless miles and hours checking lakes; praying for continuous days in the teens to guarantee local lakes to lock up. To lock up with walkable ice, and when I say walkable ice, I am talking about a solid 3-4” inches of clear, clean ice. The stuff you can see through; that’s the base you wan to be considered safe.
And as for being safe, we seasoned angler who’ve been doing this for a while are well equipped with the proper safety gear and equipment. Most of this gear to be safe is simple.
First off, make sure you go with others, and have a game plan. Going with other’s increases your safety, and it is fun. Bring a heavy spud bar early season to hit the ice in a downward blow to test strength, and thickness of ice. Make sure to always have a set of ice picks around your neck. Ice picks are a set of spikes on handles, and if you were to fall in you could pick your way back on the ice. Have a simple floatation device, such as a throw cushion, or even wear a life jacket early season when ice is thin. Many of us professional ice anglers wear float suits. These bibs and coats act as life jackets and will keep you afloat.
Another important item to have with you always is a chunk of rope. 50-100’ feet of rope you can throw to someone who’s fallen in. Companies such as Clam Out-doors sell an Emergency Throw Rope designed to be thrown and deploys smoothly when tossed. Not only are these items handy, but also the internet can be a great resource for Ice conditions and helpful tips. Few Facebook pages can lead you to safe fishable ice, and many even help steer you towards catching fish with helpful tips. Check with local resorts before heading out if there are any on the lake you are planning to fish. Many of the resorts stay on top of the recent ice conditions and fishing reports.
Make sure you always have the proper clothing and gear. Warm and waterproof clothing is necessary, as well as a good pair of boots to keep your feet warm and dry, as you can encounter extreme cold and slush. I always say to overdress because you can take it off. But if you don’t have them you can put them on. A sled to carry and haul your auger, rods, buckets, and gear is the only way to go if you don’t have a flip shack. A flip shack is an ice hut that folds into a sled, and their hub style shelters which are like tens without floors. These are great to have with a small propane heater, as you can be comfortable and stay on longer. When it comes to bait and lures, we are typically using small spoons and jigs. Before approaching a body of water, I tend to study the habits of the fish in winter, and make sure I am up to date on my local regulations and laws.
We are usually using maggots, worms, and many different plastics geared towards panfish. Many companies design lures around the ice fishing season, and we’ve noticed most of those great baits work year-round, even in open water. Companies such as Clam Pro Tackle, and Eurotackle have some of the hottest ice fishing lures on the market. Lures that will make you successful on any of our local waters. Once you get to know the lake your fishing, and find out what the fish are feeding on, you can match the hatch. Mimic the bait the best you can to catch more fish.
Electronics, yes, they can be a costly investment. But an investment is what they are. Many of us anglers use flashers such as Vexilars. These sonar units tell us the depth of water, tells us if there’s weeds or hard bottom, but most of all they tell us if there are fish beneath us. They will tell you what the fish’s mood is, does the fish want what you have tied on? Or does it want something else? A flasher can tell what exactly the fish want, eliminating a lot of guess work out of wondering why they are not biting. You can find many different fish finders from different price ranges that will fit your needs. Or you may just like to rely of your sense of touch and sight to catch fish?
So, get out and get the basics to get started. Study lakes and the fish you plan on chasing and make memories. Just because it’s winter; doesn’t mean you can’t get out and have fun. Start a new hobby, overtime building this sport, and most of all be safe out there.