Two anglers ice fishing on Diamond Lake
statewide

14 tips for ice fishing in Oregon

January 3, 2020

Ice fishing is becoming increasingly popular in Oregon as anglers look for new ways to enjoy fishing year-round. Here are some tips to get you started.

When it comes to ice fishing, Oregon is no Minnesota or Wisconsin. But it’s no slouch either. Exactly how much ice fishing opportunity there is from year-to-year will depend on the length and severity of the winter cold.

In a good, cold winter, ice-anglers will have access to many mid-elevation locations, in addition to the more reliable higher elevation lakes and reservoirs.

Dave Banks, ODFW district fish biologist in Hines, looks forward to ice fishing season for many reasons:

  • It’s easier to catch fish through the ice than many other winter fishing opportunities.
  • Frozen lakes are generally quieter and less crowded.
  • It’s a chance to wander around on a lake without a boat. (But don’t wander aimlessly. Use your head to avoid places you shouldn’t wander, and to think about where you might find fish.)

Dave’s been at it for a long time, and catches his share (or more) of fish. Here are his tips for ice fishing in Oregon.

1

Make sure the ice is safe, especially early and late in the season. Falling through the ice will do more than just ruin your day. It can take just 20 minutes in the water for live-threatening hypothermia to kick in.

To stay safe, take the following precautions: use the “buddy system,” wear a PFD in case of thin ice, carry a throw-rope, and use a heavy metal staff (such as a digging bar) to check for thin-ice. The Minnesota DNR (where they really know ice) has developed guidelines for ice thickness and other safety tips.

2

groups of ice anglers at Malheur Reservoir
Malheur Reservoir

If you’re new to ice fishing, follow the locals to an established spot. That way you’ll know the ice is safe and there’s likely to be fish. You also might pick up a few pointers from some veteran anglers.

Once you feel more confident, move out to the edges of the crowd – there’ll be less noise under the ice than in the middle of the pack.

3

Start with the fishing gear you already have. Unless you just want a reason to buy new gear (and some of us do), a light trout or warmwater rod/reel with 4# test line will work fine for ice fishing.

4

When you’re ready, step up to specialized gear.

  • Ice rods. Although these 18-36 inch rods may look like toys, they let you fish closer to the hole in the ice, making it easier to:
    • Keep pressure on the fish,
    • sense a light bite that moves the line or wiggles the end of the rod, and
    • ease a big fish through a small hole.
  • Tip ups. A tip up suspends the bait in the water. When there’s a bite, a flag “tips up” alerting the angler to come running.  These devices allow you to fish a hole without actually being there – a handy feature that allows you to fish more than one hole at a time. (See two-rod validation below.)

5

Get a two-rod validation. With a two rod validation, you can fish up to five holes in the ice at a time using a combination of a rod and tip ups.

6

Drill strategically. Drill your first hole closer to shore and fish for 15 minutes. If there’s no action, drill a new hole five yards further out or to the right/left. Keep a standard distance between holes, and drill new holes until you find fish.

7

Consider renting an ice auger to start. There are several ways to drill a hole through the ice. An ice-digging bar is cheap and effective for ice less than 6 inches but a lot of work when ice is thicker. Manual augers are faster but more expensive. A chain saw may be readily available but be sure you don’t drill a hole larger than the 12 inches allowed by regulation.

But if you’re new to ice fishing and just want to try it out, you best bet may be to fish a lake with an all-season resort that rents ice augers. Two of the most popular are at Lake of the Woods and Diamond Lake.

Finding a relatively easy way to drill holes through the ice will encourage you to move around more to find fish.

8

Don’t overlook an ice scoop. As your holes start to ice up, you’ll need something to scoop out the new ice. Don’t use your hands! You’ll never get them warm again. Instead, use a small kitchen strainer, cat litter scoop or dedicated ice-fishing scoop.

9

Carry a selection of ice flies. Ice flies are similar to crappie jigs, on a smaller scale. Look for jigs with lead heads from 1/8 to 1/64 of an ounce. Popular colors include chartreuse, orange, yellow and, sometime, purple. Lures made with glow-in-the-dark materials is another great way to attract fish; many of the colors listed above come in a glow option. 
 

a selection of small fishing jigs/lures called ice flies

In colder water, fish won’t spend much energy chasing your lure. These smaller jigs fall more slowly, and are better suited to a fish’s slow-speed nature in winter.

10

Keep your bait small. Meal or wax worms are a popular choice because they’re small, oily (read smelly) and come in colors. If you’re using PowerBait or other dough bait, use about ½ of what you normally would on a size 14 treble hook.

11

Take a 5-gallon bucket. You can haul your rod(s) tip ups, bait, scoop and lunch in it. Plus, if you turn it upside down, you’ve got something to sit on.

Add a sled and you can put your bucket on it, along with your ice auger/digging bar and cooler, and pull the load along behind you.

12

Start by dropping your bait/lure all the way to the bottom, then crank it up a few feet. The water at the bottom of the lake is actually warmer (about 39 degrees) than the water just under the ice (32 degrees), and that’s generally where fish will like to hang out.

13

Look for a soft take. Bites when ice fishing are very subtle. Pay attention to the tip of the rod, use a small indicator if still fishing or keep a finger softly on the line to help feel any movement.

14

If you want to stay warm, stay dry! Ice fishing, by definition, is cold so all the normal recommendations about dressing for the weather apply. But the key to staying warm is staying dry. Your hands get wet handling fish, your pants can get wet kneeling in the snow, your feet get wet walking through snow and slush.

So, it makes sense to keep dry gloves or a towel handy to dry your hands after landing a fish, wear waterproof pants (or a snowmobile suit) or foam knee pads to keep your pants dry and choose boots (maybe you have a pair of insulated snow or hunting boots) that have a waterproof liner.

Two anglers ice fishing at Diamond Lake in the shadow of Mt. Thielsen
Diamond Lake

Where to ice fish in Oregon

The best ice fishing in Oregon will be in those areas with the most severe winters – the northeast and southeast zones. The weekly Recreation Report has regular updates on ice conditions for several of the most popular ice-fishing locations.

Some of these popular destinations include Diamond Lake and Lake of the Woods (both of which have year-round resorts), Beulah Reservoir, Burns Pond, Chickahominy Reservoir, Malheur Reservoir, Phillips Reservoir, Pole Creek Reservoir, Thief Valley Reservoir, Wolf Creek Reservoir and Yellowjacket Reservoir.

Always, ALWAYS, check the ice depth and conditions before you walk out on the water to start fishing.

Have questions? Dave Banks, Hines district fish biologist, can be reached at 541-573-6582 or david.t.banks@state.or.us.

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