Slow start to the ice fishing season in Northwest Montana

Mild winter weather has put one of Montana's favorite winter pastimes on the back burner
Ice Fishing
Posted at 4:30 PM, Jan 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-04 12:17:08-05

KALISPELL — We have recently reported on how the lack of snow in Western Montana has affected everything from ski resorts to Glacier National Park.

But the mild weather has also put one of Montana's favorite winter pastimes on the back burner.

“You really don't want to be playing fast and loose with ice thickness," warns Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Dillon Tabish.

Ice conditions in Northwest Montana are less than desirable this year.

"You can usually get a pretty good sense of what the ice is looking like from the edges. And if it's not good thick, clear ice, then you really want to be extra cautious and this year particularly you want to be extra cautious because of the unseasonably warmer weather that we've seen so far," said Tabish.

Typically by January, most of the lakes across the Flathead are completely frozen or have at least some ice but with a slow start to the winter.

Bigger lakes like Whitefish Lake have little to no ice causing some problems for ice fishermen and businesses.

“You know, I always compared to like winter tires, like people don't buy winter tires unless they actually really need them," said Chancy and Dave’s Fish Camp co-owner Chancy Jeschke. "So of course, like not having much snow, you don't sell as many sleds. If it's not real cold, you don't sell as many boots and high suits, ice houses, that kind of stuff."

Chancy and Dave's Fish Camp in Evergreen is the place to go for fishing needs, including a hotline on ice conditions — 844-774-3474.

“It can change daily and all that kind of stuff and this year was an exception, so you always want to be careful because some parts of lake freeze differ than other parts of the lake — and some basil freeze before other parts of lake — so it's always good to be to be safe and to think typically always say if you have about four inches it sounds pretty good to walk on," said Jeschke.

But there is a silver lining. The forecast shows colder weather, which means fishermen can look forward to more and better ice to keep this Montana tradition alive.

"It might be a little bit slower than average here, but we have quite a bit of ice on a lot of lakes already. So some for the bigger ones are taking a little bit longer but usually by mid to late January, they should be in pretty good shape," said Jeschke.