Do You Ice Fish in Montana?

Fish get hungry throughout the year. In fact, they are often hungrier during the winter than in the summer when plenty of plants are growing and bugs are dropping into the water.

The trick is to know what they're after, where to find them, and have the proper gear so you don't have to turn in early because it gets a wee bit nippy out.

Hard water season -- you know, when the water freezes and turns hard -- means fishing becomes a new adventure many dare not try. So, let's check out what gear we need and where we can keep harvesting wild-caught fish throughout the year to keep fresh food on the table.

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Specialized Gear for Ice Fishing

If you want to pull a fish out through the ice, a few items are unique to hard water fishing. Most of your regular fishing gear will do fine if you're merely testing the waters.

Ice Auger – You need to get through the ice and into the liquid below. While you could smash a whole with a hammer or an axe, an auger will make the work much easier. You can get one cheap if you want to crank a lot and wear yourself out.  But I recommend a gas or battery-powered one.

ice fishing in montana
Credit: Scott Sery, Townsquare Media
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Ice Hut – Temperatures can get a little cold on a frozen lake. But the biggest perk of an ice hut is being able to get out of the wind. Outside, the wind chill might have temps well below zero, but with a small heater in your hut, you're sitting in short sleeves and sipping a craft brew from a local brewery.

Fishing Poles – You can get by with a regular fishing pole, but it will be much easier with an ice fishing pole. They're shorter and easier to use in an enclosed ice hut.

ice fishing in montana
Credit: Scott Sery, Townsquare Media
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Ice Scoop – It's like a ladle but with holes in it. The scoop clears the ice shavings from the hole after you augur it, or it clears the ice that forms on top of the hole as it tries to refreeze. Of course, you could just use your hand, but that gets you cold really fast.

Clothing – Lots of layers and insulation will help keep you warm and comfortable instead of freezing and sad.

So really, you just need a means of getting through the ice. For everything else you could use your regular fishing gear. More specialized gear will mean it's a bit easier, but if you're not sure you'll even like ice fishing, it's best to rent or borrow first (or make do with what you have) as you head out to one of these amazing winter fishing spots.

Keep scrolling for the best ice fishing places near Billings!

 

How to Be Safe and Take Precautions if You Go Ice Fishing

Catching fish through the ice is a unique experience. Especially when you're catching something big. Personally, I've never had to widen the ice hole, but I've heard stories of fish so big they don't fit through the hole you augured.

When you do go, however, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. It's cold out. Cold temps can quickly lead to deadly situations.  Make sure you have the proper clothing and know when to call it quits.
  2. Ice is fragile. You can walk on ice that is just a couple inches thick, but that's risky. Know the thickness, and know that 5+ inches is where it's really getting safe.
  3. Don't be an idiot that drives onto the ice when it's less than a foot thick. You can take a truck out there when it's really well set up, but every year someone loses their rig.
  4. Know your limits. Not only your limits on how many fish you can keep but your limits on what you can tolerate. There's no shame in throwing in the towel and heading home to a warm cup of hot chocolate.

Have you dropped a line through the hard water? Where's your favorite ice fishing spot?

Best Places to Go Ice Fishing Near Billings, Montana

Take your buddies or your kids and head out for a classic Montana ice fishing adventure.