Henry’s Lake (Ice Fishing)
As of this writing, Henry’s Lake in eastern Idaho remains the Gem State’s only reliable ice fishing destination so far this winter. The bad news is it’s a five-hour trek from Boise to Island Park near the Montana border. The good news is Henry’s is legendary for producing huge fish, like the monster cutthroat trout I wrote about in my latest Fish Rap column. A few pointers on Henry’s: The easiest access is at the State Park boat ramp, but it costs $5 to park there, so bring cash. The fish can be picky, so don’t hesitate to move around, drill new holes and swap out your lures. Actively working small jig heads tipped with worms and corn did the trick for me. Based on the reports I’m seeing, most anglers have a similar experience to mine — the bites are few and far between, but when you do hook up, there’s a good chance it will be a big fish. Henry’s Lake has a two-fish limit, and it closes Jan. 1.
Getting there: Take I-84 east to Idaho Falls, then follow Highway 20 north toward West Yellowstone.
C.J. Strike Reservoir (Mixed Bag)
By this time last year, C.J. Strike was already starting to freeze over. There’s no sign of ice yet this winter, but anglers are catching a variety of species on the open water. Trolling or bank fishing for trout is always a good bet in the fall and winter—rainbows up to 18 inches are caught regularly with worms, marshmallows, power bait, spinners and pop gear. Perch, crappie and bluegill can be found in the narrows using small jigs or crankbaits tipped with worms or crappie nibbles. I’ve even seen a few December bass coming out of C.J. and other Snake River spots, which is pretty cool. I’m hoping Strike will freeze over for ice fishing at some point, but for now, bundling up and launching a boat is the ticket.
Getting there: Head southeast on I-84 and Simco Road, then follow the signs to C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area via Strike Dam Cut-Off Road and Highway 78.
Salmon and Clearwater Rivers (Steelhead)
Early December has been treating steelhead anglers well. I’m seeing lots of nice fish being caught on both the Salmon and Clearwater Rivers. Both rivers have decent numbers of wild and hatchery A-run fish, which average about 24 inches. The Clearwater is a farther journey from Boise, but it’s also a better bet for bigger B-Run fish, which often surpass 30 inches. According to the latest harvest reports, catch rates are quite good on the Clearwater (4-5 hours per fish) and the Salmon (4-11 hours per fish). Depending on water conditions where you fish, back-trolling with side planers and plugs, floating a jig-and-bobber rig, drift fishing with yarn and roe or stripping flashy streamers can be productive methods. Be sure to read up on the modified harvest rules for this fall and purchase a $12.50 steelhead permit.
Getting there: Visit the Idaho Fish & Game website for a complete list of fish counts, seasons and rules, and the latest fishing reports.
Boise River (Trout)
With short daylight hours and chilly temperatures, sometimes a quick fix in town is the best available option for wintertime fishing. My recent trips have yielded nice rainbow trout up to 18 inches and one huge, disappointing sucker fish. I’ve seen anglers catching lots of pan-sized trout and whitefish along with some bigger, wild rainbows and browns. Fish are hitting on everything from Panther Martins, worms and Power Bait to nymphs, streamers and tiny dry flies. For the fly crowd, hares ear and pheasant tail nymphs are fall staples on the Boise, along with the zebra midge. I saw one report of a steelhead caught on Tuesday, so there might be a few of those bruisers still swimming around, too.
Getting there: Fish & Game stocks trout all along the river, from Barber Park to Glenwood Bridge through town all the way out to Eagle and Star.