Frosty magic: Icefishing for trout - Coeur d'Alene Press: Outdoors

Frosty magic: Icefishing for trout

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Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2014 12:00 am

SHOSHONE (AP) - Surrounded by an expanse of frost-coated ice, the Masseys' fishing camp was an oasis of comfort: coffee, fruitcake, folding chairs, a heater and a hut.

In sunglasses and heavy camouflage jackets, Stan Massey, 77, and his wife, Sharon Massey, 74, each jigged a line that disappeared into dark water. At eight other holes in the ice, weighted racks held the poles. The Mountain Home couple's favorite spot for ice fishing is right there, near Magic Reservoir's Biscuit Island, where their grandchildren used to sled on the shoreline hills between bites.

A yellow Labrador named Maggie, wearing booties to keep the ice from cutting her paws, silently begged for her ball. Maggie dashed after the clump of snow Sharon threw and clearly was disappointed to find it wasn't the ball. But jigging still left one of Stan's hands free to stroke the dog.

"It's a great day to be out here," Stan said.

Indeed. Gorgeous sunshine illuminated the elaborate frost crystals that coated the ice like a carpet of small plants reaching for the sky. The hut and heater sat unused on sleds pulled by the Masseys' Polaris Ranger 4x4, parked on the ice. And nearby lay an 18-inch rainbow trout.

On shore Jan. 2, West Magic Resort owner Don Hartman manned the bar, the kitchen and the cash register. When the phone rang - this time, an angler from Idaho Falls - Hartman launched into a practiced patter.

"Ice is at 12-plus inches thick. It's real stable," he began. His fishing and weather report ended: "And you're missing it if you're not here."

The anglers who work at it are pulling out trout at 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds, he said after hanging up. The perch, however, "are pretty finicky."

Dam repairs required a near complete drawdown of Magic Reservoir at the end of 2012. Most of the reservoir's water was released again in early summer. Those rapid drawdowns likely hurt the reservoir's fishery, "but we don't have specific information about just how bad," said Doug Megargle, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Perch reproduction suffered in spring 2013, Megargle said. Some of Magic Reservoir's perch were purged through the dam during the drawdowns. For the fish that remained, low water crowded young-of-the-year perch into a smaller area with their predators and erased the shoreline complexity where they find cover.

"We weren't anticipating a strong perch ice fishing season, and to support that, we had reports of mediocre perch fishing during the summer," Megargle said Jan. 3.

The reservoir's trout population, on the other hand, depends on Fish and Game's releases of hatchery-raised trout. Since Magic froze just after Thanksgiving, Megargle has heard that trout account for most of ice anglers' catch.

The bottom line? Fish and Game forecasts that ice anglers will do well if they fish for rainbow trout. You might still catch perch this winter if you're targeting perch, Megargle said, but you might have to release a lot of 4 to 6-inch perch before you catch the 9- to 11-inch ones that anglers like to take home.

In spring through fall of 2013, Megargle said, most Magic Reservoir anglers gave positive reports on size and number of trout despite access complications in early summer, when three of the reservoir's four boats ramps were dry.

All year long, Hartman said, the reservoir had enough water for anglers and recreationists to put in boats at Myrtle Point.

And now the water is rising.

On Jan. 3, Lynn Harmon reported 39,373 acre-feet in Magic Reservoir. That's between 15 and 20 percent of total reservoir capacity, and it's an average level for this time of year.

"It's not doing what we'd like to see, but it's not bad," said Harmon, general manager of Big Wood Canal Co.

Perch Lovers

Near the reservoir's Poverty Point on Jan. 2, Julia Aeschleman and her husband jigged at holes in the ice, with mealworm on one line and PowerBait on the other.

"We're fishing in 20 foot of water," the Twin Falls woman said.

On the ice nearby sat the spray bottle of herring juice that scented their bait, a couple of beer cans, a hand auger and the sled that hauled their supplies - sunflower seeds, hardboiled eggs, beef jerky.

They hoped for perch that day but didn't seem put out by their lack of success so far. It was already Aeschleman's third trip to Magic Reservoir during this ice fishing season, she said, and every time was awesome.

From the boat launch below West Magic Resort, Ray Mitchell of Shoshone admired the scene with a friend while their dogs played on the ice. Mitchell, another perch lover, didn't have his ice fishing gear along that day. But he said he'd checked the hundreds of fresh holes which New Year's Day anglers left near the dam for any blood or other signs of a catch.

"As soon as I hear some good stories, I'm going to try it," he said. "When there's good fishing here, it's a lot of fun."

© 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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