By Dale Allen, Fisheries Regional Manager, IDFG
MCCALL, IDAHO —I know it’s officially winter by looking at the calendar and the snow outside my office window. The water at Lake Cascade State Park, about 30 miles south of here, is now frozen hard and finally ready for ice fishing adventures.
I’m always nervous about first ice, but the ice is looking good at about 8 inches (on Dec. 28) and gaining with this recent cold blast we’ve had, but it is always a good idea to be cautious about travelling on ice.
Local ice fishermen hope that 2017 will be another banner year with strong catches of the lakes now-famous perch population still on the rise. I can’t predict what this season will bring but I can tell you what we found during our annual fish survey in the reservoir this fall.
Not an October surprise
The department conducts an annual gill net survey of Lake Cascade in early October. “We use gill nets manufactured with monofilament line woven into panels with different sizes of square mesh that catch fish of various sizes.
We place two nets at a site, one that floats just under the surface and one that stands up creating a wall on the bottom of the lake. We set 15 of these net pairs at locations scattered around the lake. The fish are collected and measured, and this data allows comparison of the sizes of fish from year to year. The survey takes two boat crews a week to accomplish, and we handle many hundreds of fish so we end up with a good record of the species and size of fish available in the lake.
Research from 2014 to 2016 show that a healthy segment of the perch population is made up of relatively large fish—12 inches and longer.
The research from samples collected and measured each year shows that there are plenty of smaller fish to feed the larger, older fish that will hopefully be harvest by angler.
The fruits of our labor
Lake Cascade has come back as an ice fishing destination for jumbo yellow perch after it was overhauled about 15 years ago. The plan was to restore perch populations after it crashed in the 1990s. The department removed literally tons of predators, mostly northern pike minnows, and transplanted about 850,000 adult perch.
Since then the reservoir produced several state-record perch in 2014 and the current state record for weight was caught in February 2016. That record was joined by a new catch-and-release record perch at 16 inches the same month. The catch and release records program started in Jan. 2016.
If we plant them, they will come
The success story of the perch of Lake Cascade has brought anglers to the small town in the West Central mountains of Idaho from across the Northwest and Midwest. This year there will be three significant ice fishing derbies held on the lake.
The Hardwater Classic is a one-day tournament on January 28 followed by a dinner and award ceremony at the Cascade American Legion. There are cash prizes for the top three perch and trout in both an adult and youth category. There are also a cash prizes for largest junk fish and smallest perch.
After-expense proceeds from the derby go to Idaho Youth Outdoors, a non-profit organization that provide families, especially kids, with chances to enjoy Idaho with a variety of exciting outdoor adventures.
For more information go to: http://hardwaterclassic.com/
Cascade Chamber of Commerce and Montana-based fishing club Perch Assault will host a two-day tournament February 11-12. The Montana-based ice fishing club holds three, two-day fishing tournaments annually where two-man teams compete for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes in each of three derbies. Historically, most of the Perch Assault’s tournaments take place around Flathead Lake in Northwestern Montana.
Club organizer Mike Howe of Kalispell traveled to Cascade earlier this year because of the high-quality perch fishing available at Lake Cascade. He met with local businessmen and the area chamber of commerce looking for support, which he received.
The world record perch caught by Eagle, Idaho teenager Tia Wiese, with a tip up was the determining factor to bring the Perch Assault tournament to Cascade. “I’ve been fishing for perch most of my life and when I heard a teenager caught a world record perch out of Lake Cascade, I knew I had to bring the Perch Assault tournament here,” Howe said.
For more information go to: http://perchassault.com/
Tackle Tom’s and the Cascade Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring the annual President’s Day weekend Cascade Cup Ice Fishing Derby February 18 and 19.
Ice fishing in Idaho is a state-wide activity
Winchester State Park Assistant Manager Steve Kuskie said this year’s Winchester Lake Ice Bowl fishing derby on January 14 should be a good one. Winchester Lake is in Lewis County on the Camas Prairie in the north central part of the state inside the state park near Winchester, Idaho.
“Right now we have plenty of ice and we have been holding this tourney for five years and last year was the only year we didn’t have enough ice,” Kuskie said. “We’re sitting on about 8 inches of clear ice now and with the temperatures dropping this week we should be in great shape when the tournament rolls around.
“We average about 80 to 100 anglers a year,” Kuskie said, “and the main target species is trout.The total weight combination of any species of ten fish submitted will determine the prize winners and the six-fish limit applies to both bass and trout.”
Fish must be weighed in by 2:00 p.m. to be eligible.
“We have great community support with merchant sponsors from Grangeville, Cottonwood, Craigmont, Clarkston and Winchester to Lewiston. and we have a lot of great that have donated prizes.”
Registration begins at 8:00 a.m. at the boat launch with a $5.00 fee to enter the park if you don’t have a park pass. There is no fee to enter the derby. Competition is for 12-years-old and younger and 13-year old anglers and older. There are prizes 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers in each category.
For more information go to: parksandrecreation.idaho.gov and search for Winchester Lake State Park.
Bret Sepler is the organizer for the Big Dog Ice Fishing Tournament at Devils Creek Reservoir located about nine miles north of Malad, Idaho just off I 15 in Southeast Idaho. The event is scheduled for January 21.
“This is the 11th year of the event and we only allow 150 contestants,” Sepler said. “It’s been a very popular tournament, in fact we filled all entries in 10 hours.”
Sponsored by the Big Dog Fishing Club, the tourney will give out more than $6,000 in cash and prizes with the first-place winner receiving $1,700.
Tournament officials are on the ice during the entire event to measure fish. The fish are promptly measured and recorded giving the angler the opportunity to release the fish if they choose.
“We do not require the fish to be released but we do encourage it,” Sepler said. “I would estimate that well over half the fish measured are released.”
Prizes are based on the overall length of the fish to the top four contestants and prizes are awarded to the longest fish caught each hour.
For more information go to the Devil Creek Reservoir Ice Fishing Tournament Facebook page.
Although not a competitive tournament, or on Lake Cascade, the annual Idaho Youth Outdoors Kids Day, this year on January 14 on Horsethief Reservoir, is an event where families can just show up and everything they need will be provided for them.
“Even the parents don’t need to do a lot,” event organizer Sean Cluff said. “We just want to get them introduced into something they may have lost interest in or return them to an outdoor activity they once knew.”
The event is free to all registered participants. An Idaho fishing license is not required because this is an Idaho Fish and Game youth-education event. This applies to all registered attendees, including adults.
Idaho Fish and Game will have a limited supply of loaner rods, but if you have your own gear bring it so the department’s equipment can be given to those who need them. There will be bait and tackle on hand as well. There will also be ice fishing prizes for the kids to win throughout the day.
Cluff expects 500 or so participants and said that because of the high level of snow at Horsethief Reservoir parking spaces are at a premium so he encourages friends and family to carpool to limit the number of vehicles at the site.
For more information go to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other scheduled ice fishing events are include Elk Creek Ice Fishing Derby Jan 28, 2017 at Elk Creek Reservoir in the Lower Northern Clearwater River basin and the Portneuf Unit of the American Fisheries Society Ice Fishing Derby also scheduled for January 28 at American Falls Reservoir at Sportsman’s Park in Blackfoot, Idaho.
The Idaho Outdoor Journal staff contributed to this article.