Ice may not be covering all of Wyoming’s lakes and reservoirs yet, but ice fishing season isn’t actually that far away.
And for most of the state’s water, fishing early is often best.
“The hot summer months are when things will slow down, but they pick back up with early ice,” said Andrew Nikirk, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Sheridan fisheries biologist. “Anglers need to be careful, though.”
Sure, this winter you could hunker down at home like you do most winters. You could tie flies or straighten the garage. But you could also check out what Wyoming has to offer on rivers or through the ice.
The Star-Tribune tracked down what are predicted to be some of the best fishing spots in the state this winter to help you prepare for what could be your best season yet.
Have you ever caught a big catfish through the ice? If not, Glendo Reservoir is the place to try, said Matt Hahn, Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Casper fisheries supervisor.
The population is strong and catfish are big. Try using jigging spoons, and “don’t be afraid to jig aggressively,” he said. Look for them in rocky areas and target structure near deeper water like rock shelves.
In the summer, use pieces of carp or other stinky meat for bait, but in the winter, you can stick with a large jigging spoon.
“The idea behind cutbait is you drop it and currents and things disperse the scent… but in the colder water, the oils aren’t as easily dispersed,” Hahn said. “The guys who are successful doing it are really actively targeting fish, not just throwing cutbait.”
This winter should also be really good for crappie on Glendo. Look for schools of them suspended over deeper water. Move around until you find a school, and then use minnows or small jigs.
If you’re interested in moving water, the Gray Reef section of the North Platte River will be open and always fishes well in the winter, he said. Check with one of the local fly shops for recommendations for that day, and know as long as you stay warm, you’ll likely catch something.
Make a trip to Flaming Gorge Reservoir this winter and fill your cooler – or two coolers — with lake trout.
Starting Jan. 1, anglers can keep 12 lake trout under 28 inches per day and have 24 in possession on Flaming Gorge. The current regulation only allows eight per day and eight in possession. The change is meant to cut down on the incredible number of small lake trout in the gorge, said Robb Keith, fisheries supervisor in Green River.
“My biggest recommendation is to use lures that are 2 to 4 inches long, whether swim baits or tube jigs,” he said. “Early or late in the day use the luminescent lures. And don’t shy away from bright colors like yellows and pinks.”
While conventional wisdom calls for a strip of meat on the lure as bait, Keith said it actually works better to use a thumbnail size piece, enough to provide scent but not enough to scare the fish away.
The lake trout are often in about 50 to 80 feet of water. Plan to move around a lot.
The Green River between Fontenelle Reservoir and Flaming Gorge was fishing really well this summer and should continue throughout the winter, he said. For anyone fly fishing, go slow and deep with streamers or use a nymphing rig.
There’s only one place in Wyoming where anglers can catch perch, crappie and northern pike through the ice, and it’s Keyhole Reservoir, tucked away in the northeast corner of the state.
The fishing has been good recently, and this winter will be no exception, Nikirk said.
“The amount of fish in our gill nets when we sample has been phenomenal,” he said. “Keyhole has been full pool or near full pool since 2011… We’ve had good survival of stocked walleye and good natural production of the rest.”
Perch, in particular, have exploded, he said. And they’re not just 5-to 7-inch fish, they’re measuring in the 10-to 13-inch range for yellow perch. Crappies are also between 10 and 12 inches, which make for particularly good for eating.
A couple of anglers went home last year with northern pike that weighed close to 20 pounds. Regulations prohibit taking any northern pike smaller than 30 inches, but some of the big ones are measuring longer than 36 inches, he said.
For northern pike, use a tip-up with smelt and plan to stay put. Anglers targeting perch, walleye or crappie should be willing to move. Once you find a school, use a lure or jig tipped with a mealworm, wax worm, minnow head or minnow tail.
“It’s a matter of finding the right color and bait combination and being willing to move,” he said.
If you’re looking for a variety of species that should all be plentiful, try Boysen Reservoir. Once the ice is safe in the early winter, head out and look for walleye, perch, black crappie, rainbow and brown trout and burbot, said Lander regional fisheries supervisor Craig Amadio.
Use live minnows, but make sure to follow regulations. Fish closer to shore when targeting crappie, burbot, rainbow or brown trout.
Another good fishing spot this winter will be Louis Lake in the Wind River Range. Anglers will need to ski, snowshoe or snowmobile into the lake, but once there, you can find lake trout weighing more than 20 pounds and kokanee salmon.
“Typically anglers don’t catch kokanee salmon through the ice, but we have in Louis Lake in the last several years,” he said. “Maybe it’s easier to find them because you’re not trying to seek them out in a water as vast as Flaming Gorge.”
And because it’s more difficult to reach in the winter, fishing pressure will be minimal. Use worms and sucker meat and be prepared to change jig colors frequently.