Have you ever braved the crisp, winter air for a freshwater fish dinner? If you’ve never been ice fishing — this is your year. This “how-to” guide will help those new to getting out on the ice, plus it includes a list of Okanogan Country’s best ice fishing lakes. Let’s get fishing!

Gear

If your family likes to fish, you probably already have most of the gear needed to get started. Keeping your reels off the snow is important so they don’t freeze, and once you’ve fallen in love with this style of fishing you can invest in the more specialized rods and reels. The piece of equipment that truly sets ice fishing apart is, of course, the ice auger.

Ice augers can be found at most local hardware stores, feed stores and larger retail chains. Hand ice augers are reasonably priced, relatively lightweight and make the task of hole drilling a quick one. Be sure to double-check that the ice you’re venturing out on is at least 4 inches thick to ensure your safety, but a good-quality, sharp auger will easily drill through 12 inches of ice or more.

Pack plenty of snacks, plus a thermos of hot drinks to keep you nice and warm while you’re out on the ice. You may be surprised to see groups of families cooking chili and hot dogs or making hot chocolate on a portable stove while they wait for the next fish to bite. A standard-sized plastic sled is a handy addition for transporting all of the day’s gear to your fishing spot.

Action

Once everyone has set up their chairs close to a hole, it’s time to lower an attractive bait down to the waiting fish. Rigging is simple. Just crimp a sinker to the end of the line, then loop a hook with a short leader about 18 inches above that. You can also add another hook if you’d like. The fish hooks used should be a size 10 or 12. Many anglers thread a chunk of nightcrawler to the hook, while others prefer to use wax worms or grubs that can be found at most pet food stores. 

Experimenting with the many ice fishing jigs and spoons found at sporting goods stores can make the trip even more fun and exciting. By far, the most popular is the Swedish Pimple. Some anglers use this lure as their weight and tie a second hook above it. Jig this lure, so it flutters on the drop.

Location

With Okanogan’s famous 300+ days of sunshine every year, you are likely to have a beautiful day on any of the lakes you choose. Bonaparte Lake is on the county’s eastern edge, where record-setting trout are regularly caught. A pretty drive from there past Beaver and Beth Lakes brings you to the Lakes of Molson and Sidley — where the North West Ice Fishing Festival is hosted every year. All of the lakes mentioned are known for great ice fishing conditions where the ice ranges from one to three feet thick in the wintertime. Leader, Davis, Rat and the Green Lakes all host a variety of species and are known for making everybody happy. Convenient to the Town of Winthrop, Patterson Lake boasts some of the largest perch pulled from the ice as well. Palmer Lake, located near historic Loomis, is over 2,000 acres and previously held the state record for Burbot fish — which also happened to be caught through the ice!

Before you begin your ice fishing adventure, please check in with the local Chamber of Commerce for current lake and ice conditions, plus the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fishing regulations. There’s also a handy Okanogan Country Fishing Guide for more information on the great fishing opportunities throughout the region.

Sunny skies year-round and friendly folks are here to ensure your visit to Okanogan Country is memorable. Happy fishing and plan your next vacation with the free guides and maps at www.okanogancountry.com!