Since Diamond Lake's fishing season turned year-round in 2013, Rick Rockholt has become a quick study in the nuances of ice-fishing.
In addition to reading about techniques from Midwestern anglers, he's been learning more about what's happening under the ice in winter so he can help school new winter anglers who venture to the Diamond Lake Resort with a notion to try ice-fishing.
"We've kind of been inventing this as we go," says Rockholt, the resort's events coordinator and spokesman.
Though the trout beneath the ice are the same as the fatties people catch all summer long, fishing for them is distinctly different in winter.
"The biggest problem I've seen from folks is that they're coming up here and fishing just like they do in the summer, with a sliding weight and PowerBait," Rockholt says. "There's so much slack line down there that by the time they try to set the hook on a bite, the fish is gone."
Rockholt says anglers are taking a page from Southern bass fishermen and using what's called a drop-shot set-up — having a weight two feet or so below the baited hook. Dropped and set vertically, this helps telegraph a trout bite for the angler to set the hook, he says.
"The bites are really soft in the cold water, so they're missing a lot more of them than they're used to in the summer," Rockholt says.
Just dangling a worm a few feet under the ice works too, in part because the water closer to the ice is more oxygenated than the water at the bottom.
"We're still learning, but we're getting there," Rockholt says.
Here are some basic tips for trying ice-fishing at Diamond Lake — and at two other High Cascades lakes where ice fishing is legal and effective: Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods:
Make sure the ice is good. Check with the Fish Lake Resort (541-949-8500), Lake of the Woods Resort (541-949-8300) or Diamond Lake Resort (541-793-3333) for an update on ice conditions.
Two inches of solid ice is typically safe for one person on foot, 3 inches for a group in single file. A snowmobile is safe on 3 inches. A single-passenger automobile needs 7 inches, according to www.surviveoutdoors.com. However, most Cascade ice-fishers wait for at least 5 inches of ice before trekking onto local lakes.
- Dress warmly. Layered clothing and Gore-Tex rain gear work well. Don't forget a hat and bring extra gloves in case your regular pair get wet.
- Bring a buddy. It's better to fish with someone because negotiating a big trout through a small hole can become a two-person job.
- Bring a short, light rod. You need a sensitive tip to feel light winter bites.
- Bring something to sit on. Standing and staring at a hole in the ice gets old fast. Bring a stool, camp chair, bucket.
- Vary your baits. Worms and PowerBait work well, though floating baits can tangle in the line. Small jigs with a piece of worm or scent are good alternatives. Single salmon eggs, a small ball of Velveeta cheese and maggots work, too.
- Move around. If you don't get a bite in 15 or 20 minutes, go cut another hole. Trout don't move fast or far under the ice.
- Bring a ladle. You'll have to clean your fishing hole of ice build-up occasionally, and a large ladle works best.
- Watch out for holes that were drilled by fishermen before you got there. It's easy to step into a hole that has started to refreeze. Especially watch out for big holes. Even though it's illegal, some people use chainsaws to cut big holes, which is extremely dangerous for people who come later. Use a ski pole or walking stick as a probe to be safe.