ROCK SPRINGS — Ice fishing has evolved in the last few centuries. Indigenous people had cut holes into the frozen Great Lakes to keep hunger at bay.
Presently it’s considered the “coolest sport.” Wyomingites are ice fishing for enjoyment.
Of course, quite a few will take whatever they catch home to eat as well.
Rock Springs resident Gregg Fitzgerald and his wife Dannie believe ice fishing is also an art.
“Not only are you fishing in the cold and ice, it is beautiful and picturesque in its own rite,” Dannie shared. “The silence is pristine and listening to the ice breaking and cracking through the canyon is a sound only ice fishing lovers can appreciate.
“Not only for the exceptional sounds, but to know that there is danger in your next step. The excitement is astounding and the fear can be real.”
According to Dannie, the ice can be 6” to 20” or more.
In Wyoming, the weather can be quite unpredictable.
“The weather can go from sky blue skies to snow, fog, wind and just brutally cold,” she described.
“The clothing that is needed to be out on the ice can vary depending upon the weather,” she said. “Some days it can be tee shirts and jeans to wearing long john’s and insulated coveralls. More and more people are wearing jackets and coveralls that float.”
This sort of attire would help prevent fishers from going under if they fall through the ice. Falling through the ice can happen when people arrive with their 4-wheelers, snow machines and just walking.
“This is why breaker bars are needed to help test the ice as you walk across it to make sure it is safe,” Gregg pointed out. “There are, what is called pressure ridges, holes, cracks in the ice, and of course the water that is moving beneath you.
“Watching for bad ice and learning how to spot it is key.”
Dannie has gone ice fishing with Gregg for just a few years.
“I was always skeptical about going on the ice, but now it is an adventure and great!” she exclaimed. “Gregg has been ice fishing for the past ten years or so going with friends, by himself or with his trusty sidekick Aspen, our dog.”
They agree that going with friends is a good idea. They can help with setting up or tearing down the shelter.
The Fitzgeralds have met many spectators during their ice fishing trips.
“While you are out ice fishing, people will come by and see how the day is going and if you have caught anything,” Dannie explained. “For the most part, people are pretty friendly, but you do get the ones that can be, well, for the most part a little rude.”
According to the couple, this sport is slow going.
“Being out in the cold can take a lot out of you,” Gregg admitted. “Dragging equipment, setting up, tearing down and cleaning the area is definitely a chore but it keeps you in good shape.”
He added, “This is also a sport where you need patience and it’s not for anyone who is expecting to catch anything. Many are familiar with the saying ‘it is called fishing, not catching.’”
Outdoor enthusiasts prefer many areas in Wyoming to ice fish such as the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Boysen Reservoir, Lake Hattie, Keyhole Reservoir and Pathfinder Reservoir.
They recommend the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to catch trophy lake trout. There is also a good population of cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and burbot. Lake Hattie is known for Kokanee salmon, perch and four kinds of trout.
“Although there are other lakes and reservoirs that you can fish at, you just need to research which one you would like to go to,” Gregg said. “You might find one closer to where you live or you could discover your own favorite spot.”
Gregg said that having the right equipment is beneficial.
Sleds are needed to pull all the equipment such as chairs, augers (to cut through the ice), coolers, baits, lures, huts, heaters and of course fishing poles and pole holders.
They suggest making a list of the equipment needed on the trip to avoid having to go all the way back home to get it.
“Ice fishing confines you to a smaller area of fishing compared to being able to go out on a boat and being able to go to different and farther places,” Gregg explained. “Although, you can move around on the ice when you ice fish, you have to load all the equipment in your sled and move, which some people do and will move a mile in each direction from where they started.”
He added, “If you use a snowmobile or 4-wheeler, you, of course, can move out farther. For the most part, most people will stay in one area if they are catching fish.”
There is also a difference in fishing rods.
“Ice fishing rods are typically shorter than your common bank or boat fishing rods,” Gregg revealed. “You are limited to a small 8” to 10” hole through the ice. It can be tricky when you are pulling a 35” or more lake trout out.”
The rods are usually 24” to 48”. One has to make sure they have the right kind of fishing line as well, as this is a very important part of any kind of fishing, especially if catching the bigger fish is on the agenda. Too small of line, or weight limit on the line can help or hinder one from catching that trophy. Your line can consist of monofilament, braided line and fluorocarbon. The type of knot needs to be determined for use. One can use a Polymere knot or an improved cinch knot, From the line, leader and hook one needs to make sure with these types of knots they don’t lose their fish. For larger fish 20-30lbs, some may use braided line with a 12 to 15 pound fluorocarbon leader. For smaller fish six to ten pounds of fluorocarbon is useful. Hooks need to be adjusted to size. The terminal tackle should be adjusted to the targeted size of fish. The type of reels are key as well. The use of spinner reels and bait casting reels for jigging has been a go to for some.
When to go ice fishing may depend on what one would like to catch.
Gregg said, “If you want to catch burbot, cusk, freshwater cod or ling, it is best to catch them at night right after dusk and right before dawn. If you are fishing for lake trout, anytime during daylight hours.”
“I found that early is not necessarily the right time – it is usually mid-morning to late afternoon, at times, right before sunset,” he mentioned. “Getting up at 4:30 5:00 in the morning and being out on the ice at Flaming Gorge may be early to some but for us die hard ice fishermen/women it’s fantastic.”
“For some, staying up all night to catch the ling, it is a struggle, but they find it rewarding,” he pointed out. “As for me and my wife, not so much.”
There is a variety of bait for ice fishing such as small to extra large spoons, tube jigs and mister twister type grubs.
“White is typically a good color across the board since it lures that glow in the dark,” he suggested. “Adding sucker meat to jigs or tubes has been really successful. Swim bates or spoons have been good to use.”
It can be tricky to find fish under ice especially when one is pulling their sled full of gear, said Gregg.
“Most people will drill a hole and put their fish finder with a transducer down the hole, which looks for fish and how far out they area,” he explained. “If they see fish in the area, then they will set up their gear. If they don’t see any fish, they will move to another area, which can be a half mile or more and see if they can see other fish, maybe even to see what the depth is where they are at.
“Some fish you can catch at 15’ or shallower; and others at 80’. Some fish will swim right under your hole and you can see them swim by.”
Some can be lucky to catch fish within the first hour, others need to wait a bit longer.
“One could send their bait down on the first cast and catch something right away and another could be out all day and not catch anything,” Dannie said. “It is sad when the fish just don’t come when you say, ‘here, fishy fishy.’
“You can use and try as many things as you can and still not catch anything, but the joy and serenity of being on the ice is something that is exceptional no matter if you catch anything or not.”
Gregg’s friends inspired him to go ice fishing. It also keeps him from being bored.
“Of course, there’s a rush when you catch that big lake trout!”
Dannie laughed as she agreed.
“The cold does take a lot out of you,” she pointed out. “Keeping your body warm consumes a lot of energy but being able to come home, relax and enjoy some good fish is amazing!”