Winter doesn’t mean fishing is done for the season

Perch caught at Curlew Lake in December of 2020.

If you’re like many eastern and north central Washington residents, you are trying to social distance from other people but growing restless with being cooped up inside with limited sources of entertainment. And you still have at least a few more winter months ahead. This year embrace winter and try something new; ice fishing. This sport makes it easy to avoid people, it’s outside, is relaxing, and inexpensive. And with some safety precautions, you can be doing it safely in no time.

With the recent freeze-thaw cycle, you still need to wait to get out on the ice until temperatures fall below freezing for an extended amount of time. But once they do, the colder regions of the state (like eastern and north central Washington) turn into prime spots for catching trout, perch, and crappie through the ice.

  • Ice safety can never be assured so be extremely careful when ice fishing. Use an auger or chainsaw to ensure ice is at least four inches thick, clear and solid. More safety tips, and some safety equipment you may want to check out, are below.
  • If you plan to ride a snowmobile or ATV onto the ice, as much as 9 inches of ice is needed to safely support small vehicles.
  • Never ice fish alone. It’s better to be safe than sorry, just in case something goes wrong.
  • Keep fishing holes small and limited to just a few.
  • Spread out to avoid too much weight on one spot.
  • Dress appropriately for cold weather
  • And don’t forget the hot beverages. They can keep your hands warm, which in turn warms the rest of your body.
These are rough guidelines. WDFW does NOT recommend taking motorized vehicles on ice. Courtesy the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The beauty of ice fishing is that you probably already have most everything you need (some additional safety items you may be interested in are below):

  • Fishing license (freshwater or combination license)
  • Fishing rod (or ice fishing rod- very inexpensive if you want to invest)
  • Bucket (for gear and seating)
  • Sled (for transporting gear on the ice)
  • Auger & scoop (for drilling into ice and measuring depth)
Ella and her dad ice fishing for perch near Colville. Photo by Brittany Gordon.

Not sure how to get started? The video below, shot at Hog Canyon Lake, covers basic techniques for ice fishing and safety considerations.

Sorry to dwell on this, but as one eastern Washington fishing guide said, “There is no such thing as safe ice; there are levels of thickness that can hold certain amounts of weight.”

Once wet, the human body can shut down quickly from hypothermia, so there are some safety tools you may want to consider investing in before heading out on the ice:

  • Ice picks- Basically steel spikes imbedded in hand grips connected by a cord. Wear them around your neck and if you fall in, they can be driven into ice to pull yourself from the water if you break through. These are very inexpensive ($5 or $6) and some people even make their own by connecting two large screwdrivers.
  • Floatable rope to pull people out of the water if they go in. A decent length is best as ice near the edge of a hole can be fragile and continue to break off when stepped on. A long length of rope allows you to throw it without getting close to the edge.
  • Spud bar- A long piece of steel, about 4–5 feet in length with a tapered point at the end. It can be used to drive into the ice to determine how thick ice is.
  • A change of clothes and a game plan for what to do if someone does go in the water. That way you don’t have to waste time figuring out the best way to go about rescuing someone, or yourself.
  • Ice cleats. Because falls on ice can hurt.

Most of these items are available at your community general or outdoor store and are all affordable items that can save you a lot of trouble with a small investment. But let’s hope you never have to use them.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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