Don Allphin

Nicole Daniel, of Salt Lake City, holds a nice lake trout pup that she caught through the ice on a 1/4 ounce white tube jig tipped with sucker meat.

“You told me exactly where to fish,” a reader wrote, “but when I went, the fish didn’t bite. I spent an hour and gave up. What went wrong?”

To avoid problems like this, I rarely describe the “exact” locations I fish, and when I do make an exact recommendation it’s because there are so many fish in the area that regardless of how many actually show up, there will still be plenty to go around.

Let’s cast a little farther into the notion that just because you know where to fish, you should be able to have the same success as the person that told or showed you exactly where to go.

Multiple factors dictate when fish are active and when they are not. Some of the obvious ones are weather, including warm fronts, cold fronts, wind, rain, and snow. But, when ice fishing, a few of those factors don’t seem to matter. Under the ice, fish still sense air pressure drops which may relocate them either deeper or shallower depending on where they feel comfortable. Baitfish still dictate where fish will be too.

Another crucial factor is that of time. The cruel truth is that fish don’t bite all of the time. Yes, it is generally believed that the best times to fish are early in the morning and just before dusk, but even that widely accepted belief doesn’t carry its own weight much of the time.

Ice fishing does limit some of the factors mentioned above but not those related to time. Last Friday evening, and on Saturday morning between 8 a.m. and noon, three friends and I found ourselves on the Wyoming side of Flaming Gorge fishing for burbot at night and lake trout the following morning.

While on the ice, we talked about periods of wild abandon (fish biting as fast as lines could be dropped to the bottom), and stretches when it seemed like you might be fishing in the Dead Sea. We each shared stories of similar challenges.

I knew where we needed to drill our holes. I had caught plenty of fish through the ice over the years in the “exact” location. But just two days before our trip, I had fished the same area in the late afternoon and didn’t get a single bite. I only had two hours that day so I only drilled six holes, but regardless of which hole I used … no fish took the bait.

Ignoring my latest failure, we got on the ice around 8 p.m. Friday evening, drilled our holes and began to fish. Within 15 minutes the burbot showed up and we began catching fish. After catching a few, they simply stopped biting. The active period lasted less than 20 minutes.

As we waited in the cold for the next bite, I began to think, what if we had arrived just 30 minutes later that evening? Would we have caught burbot? Or, would we have decided the fish weren’t there and moved to another spot?

We committed to stay until midnight so we stuck it out, and at 10 p.m. another group of burbot and even a lake trout or two moved into the area. Again, the active period lasted 20 minutes after which it took another 45 minutes before the next strike. We experienced three active periods in four hours.

Saturday morning, we drilled our holes in 95 feet of water instead of 30 feet the night before, and witnessed the same short active periods followed by up to an hour of figuratively fishing the Dead Sea.

If we had not committed to a specific number of hours on the ice, we may have missed the 60 minutes of activity in the four or five hours we fished. But, because we stuck it out, stayed in the area and weathered the wait (so to speak), we had a very successful adventure and caught both burbot and some very fine lake trout.

So, when you know exactly where and how to fish, perhaps then, it’s just a matter of time before you succeed.

Don Allphin can be reached at

Don Allphin can be reached at

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