Washington winter ice fishing

Fishing sitting on top of the ice
Photo by Eric Braaten

Fishing doesn’t end just because winter starts. Many people in eastern and north central Washington take advantage of the area’s iced-over lakes to ice fish. Ice fishing can be a great activity that gets the whole family outside to catch trout, perch, and crappie. Be extremely careful if you go though, lake ice can be unpredictable and WDFW does not monitor ice conditions.

Ice fishing is accessible and affordable as most people who have fished before already have most of what they need. Ice fishing essentials include:

  • Freshwater or combination fishing license
  • Fishing rod (any old rod will do or ice fishing rods are very inexpensive)
  • Bucket (to carry gear and sit on)
  • Auger and scoop for drilling through ice. A chain saw will work as well.

If you haven't ice fished before, this video can get you started fishing for trout on frozen lakes.

A chart showing recommended ice depths
Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

It is extremely important to be careful when ice fishing. Ice can be very hard to read and strong in some areas but weak in others. It is very hard to get out of a hole in the ice if someone falls in and once wet, the human body can shut down quickly from hypothermia. Do not even walk onto ice if it can't be confirmed to be four or more inches thick. Some ice fishing safety tips and gear to consider include:

  • Ice needs to be a minimum of four inches thick to walk on. Use an auger or chainsaw to measure it and make multiple holes to check as you work your way out to where you plan to fish.
  • Never fish alone.
  • Spread members of your party out to avoid too much weight on one area of ice.
  • Bring a spare set of clothes just in case, and a game plan on how you will rescue someone if they do go in.
  • Consider purchasing Ice picks- steel spikes connected by a cord and worn around the neck. In the event that someone falls in, they can be driven into the ice to offer a stable hand-hold for the person to pull themselves out. They are very inexpensive.
  • Floating rope to throw to someone who has fallen into the water. Get a long length as ice near the edge of a hole can be fragile and continue to break off.
  • Some people purchase spud bars; a long piece of steel with a tapered point that can be driven into the ice to determine how thick it is without having to drill multiple holes with an auger.
  • Ice cleats are inexpensive and can save you from bumps and bruises from falling on slick ice.