December 13, 2023

Catch of the day

Photo Credit: John Bass

As the temperatures drop in Wyoming every fall, a different breed of fisherman begins to stir. Contrary to most Wyoming residents, they begin hoping for cold weather and anxiously wait for the lakes to ice up. They are ready to make the transition from “soft water” to “hard water” fishing. They begin to prepare their gear, which includes strange sounding items to the uninitiated. Items such as tip-ups, ice augers, jaw jackers, flashers, cleats, huts and ice picks appear, just to name a few. Every ice fisherman has their favorite hard water fishing hole, and for many ice fisherman in central Wyoming that “hotspot” for cold fishing is Boysen Reservoir. Boysen is home to one of the finest fisheries in the entire state of Wyoming. Wyoming Game and Fish works hard to monitor and maintain this healthy ecosystem, while Boysen State Park manages the access and amenities that surround this valuable fishery.

The sport of ice fishing can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. You can head out with just a bucket with an ice fishing rod, some jigs and a hand auger for drilling a hole in the ice. Or take out an ice castle fish house, which is basically an enclosed trailer that sits directly on the ice and contains all of your modern day amenities like heat and a cook stove. Some even have televisions.

Ice Fishing Accommodations

Photo Credit: John Bass

I would consider my gear list to be around the middle of the pack. I have a gas powered ice auger, an ice hut large enough for me, my son, my wife and our golden retriever, foam tiles for a floor in the hut, a few ice fishing rods for jigging, a minnow bucket, an ice ladle for cleaning the slush from the holes, a Vexilar depth flasher, jigging baits and a sled to haul it all out onto the ice. Another item in my gear is tip-ups. A tip-up is a device that you place over an ice hole. It has a spool of fishing line with a hook that you attach a minnow to and place at whatever depth you like. When a fish takes the bait, a flag on a wire raises. These are something you can put out and check with a quick glance from your ice hut, but be sure to label them with the name of the person fishing with them.

Read the regulations concerning ice fishing on Wyoming Game and Fish’s website, since each body of water has different rules for creel limits and the amount of lines an angler can use. For example, on Boysen, a single licensed angler can have up to six lines out at a time. So, often times I will have five tip-ups and will be jigging with my rod in my ice hut for the sixth line, but not all bodies of water allow six lines. Most bodies of water in Wyoming only allow two lines per angler. You must also remain within 300 yards of your lines.

Patiently Waiting

Photo Credit: John Bass

A major consideration is ice safety. When I moved here from Tennessee and the idea of ice fishing was brought up, I remember saying, “only one fellow I had heard of could walk on water, and I ain’t him.” But after doing some research and educating myself, I gained the confidence to give it a try. I learned that clear ice is strong ice, and cloudy ice will only carry about half of the weight. I also learned to never cross a pressure ridge, which are large cracks that form when the lake freezes where the ice buckles as it pushes against the shore as the ice thickens. Pressure ridges form weak areas where water can come to the surface, so avoid these areas. Always wear ice picks around your neck for safety, and know how to use them, check the depth of the ice frequently, and never go out on the ice alone. Heck it’s a lot more fun to enjoy time outdoors with other people anyway.

Fishing Partner

Photo Credit: John Bass

If you are interested in ice fishing, go along with someone that already has the gear and experience to teach you the ropes. I was fortunate enough to be invited along by a few of my Wyoming friends that have a wealth of knowledge on the sport. This helped to get my feet wet, so to speak. For those that brave the weather and plan accordingly, they can be rewarded with some great fishing and even better camaraderie. So let’s put on our winter gear, check the ice thickness and hit the ice this winter!

John Bass is an avid outdoorsman that has over 22 years experience in State Parks and is the current Superintendent at Boysen State Park and enjoys the endless outdoor recreation opportunities that Wyoming has to offer. He spends his free time with his wife and son fishing, hunting and hiking.

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