Cheap Fun on the Hole

Ice fishing in southwest Montana.

Typically, the term ice fishing conjures images of crotchety geezers hunched around a hole in the ice, slapping back macro-brews, and jawing about the good ol’ days. But you don’t have to be a geezer to get a rise out of ice-fishing. If hitting the same old chutes, slopes, and trails is leaving you wanting something different, or if you'd like to sit and relax but still be outside and escape the ever-lengthening “honey-do” list, ice fishing could be your next calling.

Getting Started
Ice fishing gear, like any other fishing gear, runs the gamut from outlandish to budget. Stick with the necessities. Rods are usually very short in length and slow in action. A decent quality ice rod costs less than $20; many will come as a package, reel and line included.

Augers are another story. In order to get where the fish are, you need to drill a hole in the ice. There are two types of augers: hand-crank and power. A good-quality hand auger usually costs around $80. Hand augers work great, are loads cheaper than their powered counterparts, and (if you maintain them) are a foolproof, fuel-free way to get your fishing holes drilled. Power augers are for the more committed ice angler. An investment of around $300 will get a would-be ice fisherman a giant chainsaw-motor-powered drill. They're great for people who want to drill lots of holes in a short amount of time.

Bait and Lures
Stick to the basics and keep it simple. Your tackle pack should include number ten and eight bait hooks, a dozen snap swivels (sizes two to four), and a few bell sinkers (1/8 ounce size), one dozen night crawlers, one dozen maggots, one container cheese or garlic marshmallows, and a couple of good bobbers. The last and most important thing for your tackle bag is a good-quality dipper—basically a large ladle with holes in the spoon part. This dipper keeps your ice holes free of ice and removes the leftover drill shavings.

Where to Go
The closest and most productive lake in this area is Canyon Ferry. Amazingly enough, this south-central Montana reservoir is one of the best ice fishing spots in the Treasure State. Brown trout, burbot, rainbow trout, walleye, and yellow perch all call Canyon Ferry home, and each of these species can be caught on the above-mentioned tackle.

Other Necessities
Some things improve the comfort and fun factor of your ice fishing adventures: a large sled for towing gear to and from the fishing spot, lawn chairs or buckets for keeping your butt from freezing to the ice, and last but not least, lots of warm clothing and outerwear, including gloves, hats, and scarves.

Kurty Dehmer owns Durty Kurty's Guide Service and is a frequent contributor to Outside Bozeman. For more information on ice fishing in Montana, visit,, and