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Promising ice fishing awaits - but not quite yet

| December 2, 2010 8:00 PM

Contrary to last year, it's shaping up to be an excellent ice fishing season in North Idaho, said Johnny Booey, fishing lead at Cabela's.

"Some of the bigger waters will have better ice and the smaller lakes will have very solid ice," said Booey, adding that last year's mild winter held ice fishing at bay.

But Booey cautions that the local ice isn't ready yet to hold people.

"Maybe by the end of the week if the temperature holds on some lakes up north, but nothing down here," he said.

Booey said there needs to be at least 3 inches of crystal clear ice - and he prefers it to be 3.5 to 4 inches - before it's safe to walk on.

"A lot of these lakes have springs and if you go out there on 2 inches, that doesn't give you much of a safety zone," Booey said. "Underwater springs could take ice down a quarter of an inch in the matter of hours. If you go out on 2 inches, you'd better tie yourself to the dock."

Booey said when he goes ice fishing, he drills the auger every 10 feet to check the ice's depth. He also suggests spreading out from other fishermen so weight is distributed.

"Be safe, take your time and take a friend, especially during early ice season," he said.

Meanwhile, the cold snap and snow has slowed fishing to nearly a halt in recent days.

"Not too many people are braving the wind," Booey said.

Some people are still trolling Lake Coeur d'Alene in search of chinook salmon.

"They're managing to get some small 4- to 5-pounders out of there using cut-plug herring, rapalas and flies," Booey said. "When it's cold, the chinook move to shallower water."

In Washington, people are still trying to fish Sprague Lake outside Spokane.

"I haven't heard of anything amazing come out of there lately," Booey said. "The weather has just been a factor. It hit us fast and hard."

•••

Even with snow flying these days, fishing opportunities abound, said Jeff Smith with Fins and Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service.

Rainbow trout fishing is still doing well at Lake Pend Oreille, he said.

"Last weekend, the biggest ones caught were a 16 pounder and a 15 pounder," he said, adding that average catches are 6 to 8 pounds.

Most folks are trolling long lines, and using bucktail flies on the surface. Others are pulling Apexes, he said.

"Launching a boat can obviously get tricky with the weather, but they're still putting boats at Garfield Bay and Hope (launches)," he said.

Some are fishing open water at Fernan Lake, he said, adding that not enough of the water has frozen to warrant ice fishing just yet.

Rainbow trout are chomping on power bait, or worms with marshmallows.

He reminds folks to sign up for the Winter Chinook Derby from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday on Lake Coeur d'Alene.

There will be daily cash prizes.

It costs $20 to enter, Smith said. Folks can sign up at Fins and Feathers.

"I think it's going to be pretty decent fishing this weekend," Smith predicted. "If you've got a covered boat, you should stay pretty comfortable."

•••

Ice fishing is approaching quickly.

That means once the water freezes, jigging bead chains with glow hooks and a maggot will be the best line to drop going after kokanee, especially in Spirit Lake.

By January ice fishing should be at its best, but a few more weeks of sub-freezing temps should freeze over the lakes, said Josh Kinghorn of Black Sheep Sporting Goods.

"It's just all weather dependent," he said. "It'll freeze no matter what."

For catching perch, crappie, bass and trout during the winter months, add a chunk of worm to the glow hook on the bead chain instead of a maggot, Kinghorn said.

Meanwhile, fishing as usual is still happening on the Pend Oreille River. Trout and bass are hitting on crank baits, rapala and jerk baits.

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