Hemingway once said, “Anyone can be a fisherman in May.” Fortunately for those of us in the Madison Valley, it’s pretty easy to be a fisherman the other 11 months of the year as well. Yes, even in January. All you need are a few simple tools, some warm clothes, and an open mind.
Getting started is easy. According to Colter Fosdick of Shedhorn Sports in Ennis, the only tools you’ll need are an ice-fishing rod, an ice auger, live bait or lures, a chair or bucket to sit on, warm clothes, and a license. “It’s the perfect cabin-fever remedy,” Colter says. “With the proper gear, you can get outside and enjoy the great outdoors even when it’s freezing cold.” For extreme comfort, a portable propane heater and a pop-up ice house can mimic a warm summer day. An added bonus—the heat will start to melt the top layer of ice in the ice house, so you can actually see the fish swimming beneath your feet. If you’re not ready to buy your own gear, just ask around. Chances are you already know someone happy to loan his gear out or take you along on his next trip.
Some popular destinations in and around the Madison Valley include Ennis Lake, Ruby Reservoir, Quake Lake, and Hebgen Lake. All four are easy to get to, offer plenty of space to spread out and are brimming with rainbow and brown trout. It’s not unusual to see a dozen permanent ice houses on Ruby Reservoir most of the winter, and if you decide ice fishing is for you, Hebgen Lake hosts a tournament in mid-January. Although it varies by temperature and location, most lakes have enough ice (at least four inches) to support ice fishing by mid-December to early January.
If you’re up for more adventure and want to make a weekend of it, there are plenty of mountain lakes in the area accessible by foot or snow machine only. Axolotl Lake in the southern Gravelly Mountains is home to the Arctic Grayling, and a nearby BLM cabin is available to rent by the night. Elk Lake, near West Yellowstone, boasts a population of cutthroats and the cozy rental cabins of Elk Lake Resort.
Winter can be a gloomy time for those who don’t ski, snowmobile, snowshoe or engage in some other form of winter activity. Ice fishing is something almost anyone can do and an effective cure for the wintertime blues.