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Cold snap still needed to spur on ice season

| December 9, 2010 8:00 PM

Local fishermen may be chomping at the bit to get on the ice with reports of a great season ahead this winter, but it's still a little early in Kootenai County.

Steve Holweg, who works in the fishing department at Cabela's, said he heard a report of two fishermen trying to be on the Chain Lakes this week and they fell through shallow water.

"If you go up north, like near Sandpoint or the Canadian border, you may find ice thick enough to be on," Holweg said. "But, personally, I don't believe it's safe enough yet to be on the ice around here. You need 3.5 to 4 inches of good ice. With the snow we've had, it's making it harder to find good ice until we get a cold snap. We need three or four straight days of cold weather. You won't catch me out there until at least the end of the month."

When it's safe, Holweg said the ice fishing season holds a lot of promise.

"As soon as we get solid ice, it should be good," he said.

Holweg said fishing in the area has been slow lately.

"Guys I've talked to haven't done too much except fix their gear and get ready for ice fishing," he said.

Holweg said the best fishing bet in the region now may be trolling for rainbow and kokanee on Lake Roosevelt or Sprague Lake in eastern Washington.

"This is the time of year things really start to pick up on Roosevelt," Holweg said. "Go with the standard setup of flashers and wedding rings tipped with night crawlers or dodgers and trolling flies for rainbow on Roosevelt. Also try some Berkeley power bait off the bottom."

While lakes have been slow to freeze for ice fishing, steelhead are still being pulled from the Clearwater and Columbia rivers.

The salmon should keep anglers active until ice fishing kicks in, said Josh Kinghorn of Black Sheep Sporting Goods.

On the Clearwater, between Memorial and Orofino bridges, steelhead are chasing both live baits and jigs. Loading shrimp, with shrimp oil or egg hooks, are successful lures for the fish, either casting from banks or back trolling in a boat. Jigs and bobber jigs are good options, too.

On the Columbia, between Bridgeport and Brewster, they're chasing jigs and bobbers as well, Kinghorn said.

When winter sets, ice fishing should take hold on the smaller lakes first, such as Avondale and Fernan lakes. Twin and Spirit lakes should follow.

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. 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.

Ice fishing is finally getting started in North Idaho, said Jeff Smith of Fins and Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service.

Some are already cutting holes in the upper lake in Twin Lakes, he said.

"I don't know if the warm weather is going to change that," Smith cautioned. "If you go in the next couple of days, it should be all right."

Some are using a tip-up setup baited with smelt, he said, which should nab northern pike. Others are relying on a Glow Ice Jig baited with maggots to snag pan fish like perch and crappie.

Some have also started ice fishing at Avondale Lake for blue gills, perch and crappie, he added.

He usually relies on a Hot Head Glow Jig, he said.

"You can usually put any jig or bait combination down and do OK, once you find where they (the fish) are at."

Flyfishermen don't have many options these days, but a few rivers and streams might yield a fish or two.

"(There's) decent fishing yet on the Clearwater and Snake rivers," said Pat Way of Orvis Northwest Outfitters. "This time of year is always tough to plan. If you are going to head down, we always suggest giving the shop a call for water conditions."

With warmer, rainy weather in the forecast, the rivers will probably rise and become muddier, which makes for tough fishing. Conversely, Way said, a cold snap could freeze up otherwise fishable waters.

"This time of year is definitely hit or miss, as far as what the weather is gonna do to the water conditions," he added.

One spot that seems to be fishing well is Rocky Ford Spring Creek, where anglers are finding cooperative trout. Small brassie imitations and midge pupa should draw strikes, Way said, but make sure to use a flourocarbon tippet.

"If I had to go get a fix, I'd probably run over to Rocky Ford," he said.

The steelhead streams have been spotty lately, but there's still fish to be caught. Way suggested sink-tipping with big bunny leeches in fluorescent pink, fuscia and black. Large stonefly nymphs with an egg imitation, or tandem stonefly rigs, are also a good bet.

And there's no need to hurry when your fishing for winter steelies.

"The slower you can present your stuff right now, the better off you're gonna be," Way said.

Winter Chinook Fishing Derby

The annual Winter Chinook Fishing Derby on Lake Coeur d'Alene had a decent turnout this past weekend, said Jeff Smith of Fins and Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service, with about 55 fishermen catching 200 fish, he said.

"That's counting the little ones, too, but it was quite good fishing," Smith said. "Even if people didn't win, they were still catching fish and having fun."

Andy Whitmier won with a fish weighing in at 11 pounds, 14 ounces, Smith said. Raliegh Turley came in second with a catch weighing 10 pounds, 5 ounces.

"Coeur d'Alene is a tough lake, but it opened up this weekend, it seemed," Smith said. "They were biting quite well."

The annual Winter Chinook Fishing Derby on Lake Coeur d'Alene had a decent turnout this past weekend, said Jeff Smith of Fins and Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service, with about 55 fishermen catching 200 fish, he said.

"That's counting the little ones, too, but it was quite good fishing," Smith said. "Even if people didn't win, they were still catching fish and having fun."

Andy Whitmier won with a fish weighing in at 11 pounds, 14 ounces, Smith said. Raliegh Turley came in second with a catch weighing 10 pounds, 5 ounces.

"Coeur d'Alene is a tough lake, but it opened up this weekend, it seemed," Smith said. "They were biting quite well."

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