By Eric Magnuson
I've walked and traveled thousands of miles over the highways and ice of the Pacific Northwest for the last 20 plus years. I have fished spots and destinations no one could even imagine there was any Ice Fishing to be had. I searched this tristate triangle looking for any frozen lakes to fish, and the next one I could knock off the list. Those were the days before social media, and you didn't encounter as many anglers on the ice as you might today. They refer to me as the Voice of Ice Fishing in the Pacific Northwest…
Over the years of promoting and pushing this sport, it just exploded in time across the Pacific Northwest. Ice fishing has grown in popularity in Washington, Idaho, and even south down to Oregon. There are a growing number of stores and resorts in the Pacific Northwest catering to ice anglers as well as more ice fishing gear becoming available to anglers. As ice fishing becomes more popular, so too are certain lakes in this region. Bucket list trips if you may. I'm going to highlight some of these destinations and favorite lakes of mine over the years - my top ice lakes of the Pacific Northwest.
We're going to start in my home state, Washington. I start my seasons off in Eastern Washington. After I have hit my small high Mt. Lakes, I'm off to the bigger ones. One of those lakes is Curlew Lake in Ferry County, near the charming gold rush town of Republic. This lake is 921 acres, and seven miles long with plenty of fishing to be had. Expect to find some of the healthiest population of Yellow Perch that are in Washington, great size, and plenty of numbers to keep any angler busy throughout the day. They make an extraordinary table fair, as they fry up real nice. Many anglers fish the vast mudflat in front of the state park for perch. Pounding the bottom with jigs or spoons does well here. Fishing higher in the water column, you'll start getting into some of the most colorful winter Rainbow Trout you’ll find. These Trout are plentiful and also make for a fun day chasing a limit, and you could even be lucky enough to land a Tiger Muskie through the ice.
Moving on to my next favorite lake, which would be Bead Lake in Pend Oreille County. Bead is a deep, clean lake with very clear water year-round. This lake holds a ton of natural bait for these fish, and these fish can get large! This lake sits eight miles north of Newport and is roughly 718 acres, as well as being home to several species of fish. The most popular fish is the Lake Trout, and there are fish in the double digits swimming in there. If you catch one these lakers on a tiny ice rod, it's a kick in the bibs! The lake draws the attention of many Kokanee purists because of the healthy beautiful Kokanee it has. In addition, many people over the last several years have been focusing on the burbot. They are another fish that's fun to pull through the ice, and make for a great table fair. Burbot can be quite elusive, however, if you find the right bait and the right place they can be quite rewarding as you’ll find burbot growing to over thirty inches.
Speaking of large, let's head Southeast a little to Southern Idaho and a magical place, Lake Cascade. The scenery is breathtaking and the 2 plus pound Perch can stop your heart. When I say 2 pound Perch, I'm talking about a yellow perch pushing 16-17 inches! The record caught and recorded last season was three pounds – that’s huge for a perch. With 47 square miles of surface area, it makes this lake the 4th largest reservoir in the state! There are plenty of areas to fish and get away from crowds as well as having the opportunity to catch many other species such as large and smallmouth Bass, rainbow trout, panfish, kokanee, and land-locked coho. The closest towns are Cascade and Donelly, and sit nestled in the Mountains of Valley County with plenty of accommodations to keep you comfortable and satisfied! As well there are plenty of places to keep you stocked up on gear and bait. Once you pull a two pound perch out of the ice, you'll be hooked to come back year after year. Bring various baits as the bite can change from time to time. L Minnow style baits worked well on a variety of fish here, but there will be days when they crave that micro profile and you may have to downsize a bit. Cascade Lake is a great destination and a fantastic bucket list trip for the whole family!
Staying in Idaho, we'll head to Henrys Lake, where you could practically call those Trout dinosaurs! They are absolute slabs of fish, and some have colors that nearly look like a painting. Henrys is a shallow alpine lake, sitting around 8 square miles in area. Sitting in the Fremont County of Idaho, people flock here to fish for the cutt-bow, cutthroat, and brook brout. Many consider this lake to be an elite trout fishery! Places like this, ice anglers dream about. I'm talking about fish pushing weight into the teens; this lake is known for larger than average trout. You can expect to see cutthroats averaging 3 to 5 pounds, cutt-bow hybrids pushing twelve pounds, and brook trout range around the three pound mark. As for the lures being used under the ice, well, that just depends on the angler themselves, but most will jig flashy spoons. Many downsize to small tungsten jigs and plastics, or even use droppers with beaded head flies. These fish don't seem too picky on presentation, as long as you are in their zone! If you can make your way down to this lake, I encourage you to do a little homework to plan accordingly.
Now, let's head even further south into Oregon. And yes, you heard me, Oregon. Oregon is not widely known as an ice fishing state due to it’s not having long winters. But there are plenty of possibilities to be had, and one favorite opportunity is Diamond Lake. At one point in time, this was one of Oregon's top year round trout lakes, making it a very popular destination for ice anglers. This lake is situated east of Medford on Highway 140, heading to Klamath Falls. The lake is surrounded by mountain peaks, and covering nearly 3,000 acres of water. Diamond Lake Resort is on the Northeast shore, where they carry tackle, and share all the latest updates and reports. For the novice angler, or someone traveling light, the resort also rents augers and other gear.
Diamond Lake holds trophy rainbow trout, and these fish can get extremely large feeding on summertime bug hatches. Because of that a small tungsten jig is a go-to lure. Other great lures to fish here are larger spoons, or minnow style baits, jigging them nonstop. A simpler method is to dead stick a worm with a little smelly jelly. As you target the rainbows in this lake, there are always possibilities to catch a brown trout, or maybe even a tiger trout. These two species have to be released, as ODFW planted these fish to help reduce the Tui Chub population. I’ve also heard rumors of landing a possible Land Lock Chinook in Diamond so you never know what you’ll find!
There’s a lot of potential ice fishing lakes to explore in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Get out there and make some unforgetable memories with family and friends. Go on some ice fishing adventures maybe you’ll discover something new - possibly a new fishing passion? As always, follow regulations, stay safe, and be a good steward of the ice!