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Ice fishing under way in North Idaho

| December 23, 2010 8:00 PM

Ice fishing is under way on some local lakes thanks to the recent freezing temperatures.

"I've heard a report of 7 inches on Upper Twin Lakes with people catching crappie, perch and northern pike," said Steve Holweg, who works in the fishing department at Cabela's.

Pike are coming on with tip ups with bait, normally smelt, herring or cut bait, Holweg said. Crappie and perch are being caught with small jigs tipped with maggots or Berkeley crappie nipples.

There's also a report of 6 inches of ice on Round Lake as trout and panfish such as crappie, perch and bluegill are being caught.

Holweg said that, while ice is thick enough on some lakes, he cautions that it's not on others so each lake must be tested individually.

One customer said his dog fell in Lower Twin Lakes, Holweg said.

Holweg said a minimum of 3 inches is needed and 4 to 6 inches is recommended for heavier fishermen.

"I prefer 4 to 6 inches, especially if someone walks up to me to see how it's going," he said.

Meanwhile, Holweg said he's heard that chinook salmon on Lake Coeur d'Alene are biting on either mini squids or herring.

"They're catching them up to 10 pounds at 92 and 100 feet," Holweg said.

On Lake Roosevelt, one fishermen who was trolling from the Two Rivers Bridge near Lincoln got their trout limit in two hours.

He was using wedding rings tipped with night crawlers and double whammies, another version of a wedding ring that has two hooks instead of one.

Ice fishing is starting to heat up.

Twin Lakes and the southwest end of Lake Fernan are good spots to catch perch and trout. Pike are being pulled from the Twin Lakes too, said Josh Kinghorn, of Black Sheep Sporting Goods.

"It's going to be on in January," he said. "People are going to be ice fishing like mad, it's just been a slow start for some reason."

Perch and trout in the twins are going after Swedish pimples, sliver, bronze or copper-colored, size 2. Use smelt or cut bait like herring for the pike there.

In Fernan, catch trout using a glow hook and a bead chain. The glow hook should be glow in the dark or red, then put maggot on the hook or a chunk of worm especially for trout.

On the Clearwater, between Memorial and Orofino bridges, steelhead are still chasing both live baits and jigs. Loading shrimp, with shrimp oil or egg hooks, are still reeling in the popular winter fish. Jigs and bobber jigs are good options, too.

Local rivers might give up a trout or two, but right now the best fly-fishing is down in steelhead country.

"I'd still say the best bet is steelheading," said Mike Beard of Orvis Northwest Outfitters. "The Clearwater, (Grande) Ronde... This time of year you just have to keep track of the flows."

Look for winter water and use cold-weather techniques, Beard advised. Try sink-tipping with winter spey flies or bunny leeches. Dead-drifting nymphs, egg patterns or yarn might also induce strikes from cruising steelies.

Indicators are a good idea, too, Beard said. An indicator makes it easier to see strikes, slows down the presentation - in winter, slower is always better - and keeps the fly at a designated level in the water column.

When it comes to finding steelhead, check out the slowest moving water on the river, like tail-outs or long slides.

"I would say slower tail-outs, or even what we call 'frog water' - water that, as trout fishermen, we pass up a lot," Beard said. "The fish are actually gonna be holding there."

Anglers are finding fish on the Snake, Clearwater and Grande Ronde rivers. Waders will be more comfortable in the Snake, because water was recently released from Brownlee Reservoir near Cambridge, increasing the river's temperature by a few degrees.

"The Ronde really can get icy," Beard said. "The warmest water is gonna be on the Snake. So that water is probably the best to stand in."

So far, this winter has been a fairly typical fishing season.

"It's very classic steelheading," Beard added. "You'll go down one day, you won't touch a fish, and you'll wake up the next day and get three."

Beard told the story of one local fisherman who went south, caught nothing for days, and then hooked 12 steelies on the fifth day. Sometimes the fish are thick; sometimes they're frustratingly elusive.

"You can do everything right. If the fish aren't there, you're not gonna be catching much," Beard said.

Trout hunters can still haul in a few fish on local rivers, depending on conditions. Tie on a nymph or streamer, Beard said.

"It's very temperamental, but the Coeur d'Alene can fish very well throughout the winter," he added. "It's worth going for a drive. If it's under 3,000 (cfs) and dropping, that's a good sign. If the river is coming up, it's usually not worth going. And that's just something guys get a feel for over time."

The closest to a sure thing is probably Rocky Ford Spring Creek near Moses Lake, Wash. That's a good spot for rainbow trout, no matter how chilly the weather gets, Beard said.

Ice fishing opportunities abound these days, says Jeff Smith with Fins and Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service.

"It's a mixed bag, as far as what you can go after there," Smith said.

The upper lake at Twin Lakes has been popular for northern pike, he said.

Fishermen are using tip-ups baited with either smelt or herring, he said.

"I've heard of fish up to 10 pounds caught," he said.

Folks can also snag pan fish, perch crappie and blue gill at the upper lake, he added, by using small glow ice jigs like Ratso and Ratfinkee baited with maggots or meal worms.

"Ice fishing, you're allowed up to five lines at a time, so you can set some tip-ups for northern pike and jig for the pan fish, too," Smith said.

Some are ice fishing for trout on Kelso Lake, too, he said.

Sometimes the trout are suspended, he said, and fishermen can catch them with a hook and work at a roughly 10-foot depth.

Round Lake also is also good for ice fishing for trout or perch, he added, with the same jig or bait setups.

"It's pretty standard for ice fishing," Smith said.

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