By RALPH BARTHOLDT
Velveeta is a food product.
It says so on the box.
It isn’t real cheese, but fish don’t seem to care.
“Trout like it,” said angler Ron James of Hayden.
Made from whey protein, milk protein concentrate, fat and preservatives, Velveeta has a lot of uses, including as gravy on a pile of taco chips, and it floats.
That’s how James gets the cheese product to attract the rainbow trout he fishes for on Avondale Lake.
James, an avid fisher who usually chases steelhead near Orofino this time of year, daubs a hook with Velveeta and, using a dipsey sinker, lets the Velveeta float a foot from the lake’s bottom as the sinker dangles deeper.
As an icy breeze cut across Avondale Lake Wednesday morning dropping the temperatures into the teens, James sat with his back to the gusts.
If there was anything to report from the lake in Hayden near the Avondale Golf Course, it wasn’t the good fishing, James said.
“Haven’t had a bite,” he said.
This ice, however, was good.
“It’s about 6 inches,” James said. “Plenty thick to walk on.”
More than a week of below-freezing temperatures, both at night and during the day, have solidified a lot of Panhandle lake surfaces.
The bay at the north end of Hayden Lake at the Sportsman’s Access has ice thick enough to hold an angler, said Andy Dux, regional fishery biologist at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, as well as many smaller lakes including Twin Lakes.
As the long-term forecast calls for below-freezing nighttime temperatures for the next couple of weeks, ice conditions should continue to get better.
Cocolalla Lake, a popular panfish and trout lake, and Round Lake, another popular trout lake — both south of Sagle — should have fishable ice.
“I haven’t heard officially,” Dux said. “I assume they have ice by now.”
Many anglers who had not ventured onto regional lakes earlier in the season tried it this week, as both Avondale and Fernan Lake on the east end of Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene were dotted with ice fishermen.
Kayla Asher of Post Falls, who usually fishes two or three days a week in winter, caught a 16-inch rainbow on Avondale a few days ago.
“This is my first week out,” Asher said. “I don’t go out until I know it’s safe.”
She ventured onto Fernan Lake Wednesday with two friends, Haleigh Frank and Ashley Haskew, a pile of gear including an ice fishing tent, and a heater.
Using a glow hook and a maggot, she jigged for a bite, and when the shadow from the hill on the lake’s south shore engulfed the trio, they moved into the sun by sliding the tent and their gear across the ice, past Kevin Wiebe and his dog, Beau.
Because of the pile of fish, comprised of a couple of perch, trout and a bass, frozen to the ice near one of his holes, Wiebe had the lake dialed in, Asher surmised. But Wiebe denied it.
“I’ll bump from hole to hole until I get something to react,” Wiebe said.
He used a power auger to burn holes through the 7 inches of frozen water, and kept making holes until he hooked something.
Wiebe’s preferred method: jigging with a small spoon tipped with a maggot.
If fish quit biting through one hole, he moved on. And so on.
Having fished through a hole in the ice for most of his life, Wiebe said he didn’t bother risking a breakthrough by fishing on ice that wasn’t thick enough to hold a human.
“I won’t fish anymore until I know it’s 4 inches,” he said. “Four inches is safe.”
By afternoon Wednesday, the temperature sans windchill had reached 29 degrees and the sky was a brisk blue.
James had to pick up his wife for a hair appointment, so planned to be off the Avondale ice by 3 p.m.
Hunting for small put-and-take rainbows on Avondale wasn’t as exciting as hooking steelhead in the Clearwater River, an endeavor he normally practiced in winter, James said. The 78-year-old had a couple of joints replaced recently though, and ice fishing would help him “get the kinks out,” he said.
And he loves to fish.
Even if it means sitting in a chair on a frozen lake with his insulated jacket on, non-slip chains on the soles of his boots and his back to a wintery blow.
“It’s better than sitting at home watching the news on NBC,” he said.