Ice Fishing -- This Is Arizona, Not Minnesota


The outdoor activity of ice-fishing is more commonly discussed among fishermen in the northern tier of states that have those long, harsh winters.

I am sure you have seen the classic movie, "Grumpy Old Men," where the shanty on the lake is a common picture as it is today in states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.


Dalton Harold likes to ice fish at Willow Springs Lake, located 35 miles northeast of Payson.

Well, believe it or not, the Rim Country has a few weeks where Willow Springs or Woods Canyon Lake has enough safe ice where Arizonans can try their hand at fishing through a hole in the ice.

With the last cold snap of about 3 weeks in duration, the narrow coves on these lakes have frozen over where there is about a foot of safe ice.

This past week we took a short afternoon trip to Willow Springs and hiked through about a foot of snow to one of the narrow coves on the backside of the lake.

There was already a well-worn path to a couple of convenient spots only a couple of hundred yards from the truck. Previous fishermen had already cut some holes that were iced over, but were easily cleaned out and we were fishing in short order.

If one hole does not produce in 15 to 20 minutes, it is probably time to look to another spot nearby which might have a few hungry rainbows ready to take your bait.

We did exactly that, and after the second move the fish were located, the bite was on, and a number of healthy rainbows were pulled through the small holes in the ice.

The same baits used in the summer will do the trick in the dead of winter. Have a wide selection, which should include power bait, salmon eggs, corn and worms.

I prefer a very short ultra-light rod of about 5 feet in length with 4-pound test line, a small split shot, and a size 10 or 12 treble hook.

No doubt other equipment and bait will work, I prefer to go light so I don't have to carry a lot of tackle to my destination because one needs a free hand to carry the other ice fishing tools.

An ice auger or ax will cut a small hole of six to eight inches, which is much safer than anything larger.

Standing on the ice can get a bit tiring, so a small canvas stool or camp chair is a must for a day of fishing. Even with safe ice, our crew will bring along a hundred foot of strong rope, in hopes of being prepared for the unexpected.

When the low winter sun dips behind the ponderosa pines at 7,500 feet, the temperature will take another pronounced dip, which dictates plenty of warm, layered clothing while you are fishing through the ice.

Remember, this is Arizona and the novelty of ice fishing will last only a very short time. The ice is not as thick or hard as it is in the upper Midwest. With any extended warm period, it is not advisable to wander onto one of these narrow channels of Willow Springs or Woods Canyon.

Another word of caution is to never fish the main body of either lake, because the ice is unsafe.

Arizona has so much to offer the outdoorsman. This weekend enjoy God's creation, the Mogollon Rim Country.

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