Friday, April 23, 2021

Time to hit the ice!

| December 17, 2020 12:00 AM

Tis the hard water fishing season!

Last week, along with a couple dozen other folks, I was on Smith Lake. Smith is one of the first lakes to freeze over, so it is a popular spot to dust off your ice fishing gear and catch a few tasty perch.

When fishing Smith, you will also likely catch some pike, mostly small ones, but perhaps a lunker over 10 pounds or much bigger.

If you are targeting perch, be sure to equip yourself with enough rod, reel and line to land a big pike. A gaff hook is usually necessary to pull a big pike through the ice if you have light line. But don’t put a gaff hook into a pike unless you intend to keep it and eat it.

The Perch Assault folks recently held their first perch fishing contest of the season on Smith Lake with many nice jumbo perch caught.

My understanding is that this tournament was sold out with 50 teams competing. There is almost no snow on the ice, so ice cleats are almost mandatory to keep your footing. Strap on ice cleats can be purchased at any fishing store that sells ice fishing gear.

Probably, the Flathead’s most popular ice fishing contest is the Sunriser Lions 50th annual Ice Fishing Derby that will be held Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, at FWP’s Smith Lake fishing access site.

This is a fun family ice fishing contest. It is designed to get families out on the ice. Each year there will be out-of-state grandparents who are visiting their kids and grandkids, who have never walked or fished on a frozen lake. So, it is a fun outdoor experience for all.

Registration starts at 7 a.m. and the fishing contest ends at 1 p.m.

Registration is at the Lion’s trailer at tournament headquarters at FWP’s Smith Lake fishing access site.

Cost is $8 for adults, $3 for kids or $12 for the whole family.

An oddity of the Sunriser Lions Smith Lake fishing contest, is that not only are prizes awarded for the biggest northern pike, perch and non-game fish (usually a sucker), but prizes are also awarded to kids for the smallest perch and pike caught.

The small fish contest is open to kids 12 and under. Kids really love the smallest fish contest. To win the smallest perch or pike contest, the fish must actually be caught on a hook and line.

A couple of years ago some kids came in with a 1-inch long perch. That was certainly the smallest perch entered in the small perch contest, but was not caught on a hook and line. It was likely spit up from the stomach of a larger perch or pike.

The Sportsman and Ski Haus is the primary sponsor of this event. They donate over $600 in prizes and usually have a representative on the ice handing out free bait.

A local sportsman’s club, Flathead Wildlife, also donates prizes. Another prime sponsor is the Flathead Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited. They donate 100 rods and reels for kids under 12.

The Flathead Chapter is only one of 20 local chapters of a state wide group called Walleyes Unlimited of Montana.

The name Walleyes Unlimited does not fully describe all it does. Montana Walleyes Unlimited actively supports all sport fishing, with an emphasis on warm or cool water fish species such as perch, bass, northern pike and of course, walleyes.

The only walleye fishing in Western Montana is the Noxon Reservoir area. Eastern Montana, especially Fort Peck

Reservoir, has world class walleye fishing.

The Sunriser Lions will have their food trailer out there to serve hot dogs, hamburgers, chili, donuts and drinks. Hourly, door prizes will be handed out. Usually there is a healthy, split the pot contest, with several hundred dollars for the winner.

There will be a nice lakeside campfire where kids can burn a few marshmellows and make s’mores. Participants in ice fishing usually practice lots of social distancing by the nature of the sport.

But tournament participants are reminded to practice social distancing when registering in the morning, coming in to buy some eats or the 1 p.m. awards event.

So, come out to Smith Lake’s public lake access site for a good time Saturday, Dec. 26, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

I can’t guarantee you will take home a bucket full of fish, but you will have a good time.

If you have any questions, call me at 406-890-0205.

See you there! A fun time is guaranteed!