Ice conditions vary around the state

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Buck Adam Bolender, left, fishes with his father, Doug, at the Sunriser Lions Ice Fishing Derby at Smith Lake on Saturday, Dec. 30. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Well, 2018 has started off with a wintry beginning, and I, like many of you, am in full-on ice fishing mode! While all this snow is not really helping the lakes that only had 3-6 inches of ice prior, many local lakes are now experiencing a lot of slush, conditions all around the state are varying greatly.

Let’s look at some places that either I have been recently, or have had reports on.

Here in the Flathead, almost all of the smaller lakes have fishable ice; snow cover and slush are the limiting factors. Last Sunday’s Wild West Panfish Trail tournament on McWenneger Slough saw anglers struggling with wet, sloppy conditions. Saturday’s Sunriser derby on Smith Lake had much of the same conditions, but 400 or so anglers definitely stomped it down and it should be hard-packed with these cold nights. Bumpy as heck for sure.

Swan Lake last Wednesday was completely locked up, but I saw no tracks, they got a ton of snow down the Swan, and there were anglers fishing on Salmon Lake but it looked very messy. Vann Lake had good ice over a week ago, but I imagine access is impossible without a snowmobile.

North of town, Lower Stillwater has been churning out the perch, but again, be prepared for deep, heavy snow and slush. Contact Thads Tackle Shop in Olney for up to date info. Out west, Upper Thompson has been frozen for a couple weeks as has Lower, but Middle may still have iffy ice, again with the recent snow.

Across the state, Hebgen Lake near West Yellowstone has a solid 10 inches of ice, with the slush inconvenient but passable on snowmobiles; we caught some darn nice fish there last week in preparation for the upcoming NAIFC National Qualifier. Defending last year’s championship will be no easy task, but my partner, Jason Mundel, and I may have a few tricks up our sleeve!

Holter Lake just outside of Helena has been kicking out good perch and lots of them.

Fort Peck has now completely frozen over. My guides over there are reporting 3 to 5 inches of ice near the dam and over 10 inches in most bays. With the addition of a custom airboat designed for ice fishing to our Fort Peck operation, we can take up to four anglers fishing in any winter condition now, so I encourage anyone who wants to go hit Fort Peck to give us a call ASAP, the fish are biting!

As many readers and listeners to my outdoors reports on local radio station 600 KGEZ know, I recently competed in the NAIFC championship event in Naytawaush, Minn. A two-day crappie and bluegill event, with 130 of the best panfish anglers in the U.S., this was the highest level of ice fishing competition I have experienced to date. While our results wouldn’t impress many, my elevated learning curve will certainly help in future participation, as the championship looks to be held there for the next few years. As they say, we’ll get ‘em next time!

Congratulations to Dennis Gehrke for his big fish of the derby at the Smith Lake event Saturday, weighing a 1.75-pound perch, and to Matt and Anna McComb on their victory at the event on McWenneger on Sunday. These anglers are regularly very competitive at the Perch Assault and other local events and are great ambassadors to our local ice fishing community.

Upcoming events include this Sunday’s WW Panfish Trail event at Blanchard Lake (sign up at Snappy’s by tomorrow), the afore mentioned NAIFC qualifier at Hebgen Lake Jan. 14 (www.naifc.com) and the first Perch Assault event Jan. 20-21 at Lake Mary Ronan (www.perchassault.com).

Lastly, make plans to attend my next ice fishing seminar at Cabela’s on Saturday, Jan. 27. Stay tuned for some special announcements regarding that event! As always, watch my personal and Howe’s Fishing/A Able Charters Facebook pages for up to date info! I’ll see you on the ICE!

— Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at www.howesfishing.com

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