If you’re looking to get outside at a low cost, ice fishing offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy Washington state’s winter and early spring seasons.

Ice fishing is a popular sport in eastern and north central Washington, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife communications manager Staci Lehman said. If you’ve fished in the summer months, going in the winter will be just as fun, she added.

“Ice fishing has been really popular because the snow wasn’t great this year,” Lehman said. “There’s not a lot of outdoor recreation options right now. People are turning to ice fishing.”

As a child, Lehman said, she would spend hours bundled up in warm clothes, sitting on a bucket and hoping to catch some fish. She said the sport has changed drastically since she first started ice fishing. 

“I've noticed lately a lot of people are using fancy tents and fancy equipment,” she said. “If you've ever fished before, you have a regular fishing pole, or whatever in your setup, to ice fish. You don't have to have anything fancy. It can be very affordable.”

To get started, here are some of the essential equipment that you’ll need: a fishing license, fishing rod, bucket (to sit on) and an auger for drilling through ice. 

The ice fishing season can last from early December to late March, Lehman said, depending on the weather.

Lehman, who lives near Newman Lake in Washington, said the lake had about 9 inches of ice—plenty thick enough to safely fish—at the beginning of February.

“A lot of the time, February is the coldest month,” she said.

One of the most popular spots to ice fish is Curlew Lake in Ferry County, Wash., she said. At that location, there is no limit on the number of perch you can catch. 

“People are pulling them in left and right,” Lehman said. “Their big ones are between 9 and 12 inches.”

People visiting other places like Lake Thomas in Stevens County reel in plenty of fish, Lehman said, but they average closer to 6 inches in size.

The WDFW compiled a list of lakes commonly used for ice fishing on its website.

Safety tips:

When arriving at the lake, it’s crucial to always check the thickness of the ice. WDFW does not monitor ice conditions, Lehman said.

Many people use an auger, which is a tool with a helical bit, or chain saw to measure the ice. Make sure to drill several holes as you walk farther out on the lake, she said.

“We just don't have the resources to go out to every lake every day and drill to see how deep it is in certain areas,” Lehman said.

The WDFW recommends ice thickness at 4 inches for walking, over 5 inches for quads, more than 8 inches for cars and over 12 inches for trucks. Ice thickness varies around a lake, so it’s best to measure the ice before moving spots. 

Falling into the water can be deadly, according to WDFW. The body shuts down quickly from hypothermia when wet.

Additional safety recommendations from WDFW:

  • While on the ice, have your group spread out to disperse your party’s weight.
  • Never fish alone.
  • Create a game plan before going out just in case someone does fall into the lake. In addition, floating ropes and ice pikes/steel spikes are useful for rescuing a person who has fallen into the water. The steel spikes can offer stability when pulling out a person.
  • To prevent falling on slick ice, ice cleats are an inexpensive option.

To learn more about ice fishing in Washington, visit wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/basics/ice-fishing.

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