Some of the top ice fishing destinations in Oregon are Diamond Lake, Fish Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Thief Valley Reservoir. However, it’s crucial to prioritize safety when ice fishing in Oregon, as not all lakes freeze solidly enough for a secure ice fishing experience. Always check the ice thickness before venturing out onto the frozen water. Additionally, familiarize yourself with licensing requirements and other Oregon ice fishing regulations. To increase your chances of success, research which locations are home to your target fish species and ensure you bring the proper fishing equipment along for the trip.
The Best Places for Ice Fishing in Oregon
1. Diamond Lake
Diamond Lake is situated at the heart of Umpqua National Forest. This pristine alpine lake covers 2,824 acres and has a surface elevation of about 5,183ft. Diamond Lake has a reputation for being one of the best lakes for trout fishing in Oregon.
It is stocked with tons of trophy-sized rainbow trout. There are also a good number of brown and tiger trout.
However, remember that the tiger and brown trout are only meant for catch-and-release purposes only since they are there to prey on invasive fish species that eat the rainbow trout in the lake. It’s also important to remember that you can only catch up to 5 rainbow trout in this lake, with only one being over 20 inches long.
This lake also has excellent accommodations nearby, like the Diamond Lake Resort (open throughout the year), where you can easily access the lake and stay if you want ice fish for a couple of days. Besides accommodation, this resort rents ice augers and other ice fishing equipment.
The ice thickness on this lake is usually safe enough for ice fishing by January. However, remember that this varies yearly, so it’s important always to check the safety conditions of the lake before going ice fishing.
2. Fish Lake
Located 35 miles Northeast of Medford, Fish Lake is among Oregon’s best ice fishing spots. Situated at approximately 4639ft above sea level and covering about 500 acres, this reservoir is packed with a wide variety of trout species, making it one of the best places for trout fishing.
Fish Lake is usually stocked with a good number of rainbow trout yearly. You can also occasionally come across Eastern brook trout and Chinook salmon. Trout fish was also recently stocked in the reservoir; however, these are only meant for catch-and-release purposes.
This reservoir is usually safe for ice fishing by mid-January when the ice is about 6-10 inches thick. But, it’s recommended to confirm the safety conditions of the reservoir before going out to ice fish.
There’s a top-tier resort nearby, Fish Lake Resort (normally open all year-round). You can easily access the reservoir, get excellent accommodation, and rent an ice auger and other ice fishing equipment.
3. Lake of the Woods
It’s hard to talk about the best ice-fishing lakes in Oregon and not mention Lake of the Woods. Situated in Klamath county, this lake has it all; a wide range of fish, breathtaking scenery, and excellent resorts nearby.
Lake of the Woods stands at 4,949ft above sea level and covers about 1,146 acres. This lake is one of the few with a wide variety of fish species.
Lake of the Woods is home to species like the Brook trout, brown bullhead catfish, black crappie, largemouth bass, blue and tui chub, and yellow perch. The lake is also stocked with rainbow trout, brown trout, and Kokanee salmon.
Usually, winter freezes the lake over by mid-December, but it still varies from one winter season to another. Fortunately, there are several resorts nearby, like the Lake of the Woods Resort, where you can not only easily access the lake but also get credible information on the safety conditions of the lake.
4. Thief Valley Reservoir
Thief Valley Reservoir sits on the Powder River, situated in Eastern Oregon. This reservoir is well-known for having abundant king-sized rainbow trout despite being an irrigation reservoir. This is thanks to the thousands of rainbow trout fingerlings stocked in the reservoir yearly and its waters, which present suitable living conditions for this fish species.
The Thief Valley reservoir waters typically begin freezing over by January, but it doesn’t freeze over a long distance. The frozen part of the reservoir is easily accessible from the county park on the east bank. The best ice fishing spot on the reservoir usually is just a short distance from the boat ramp.
Popular Fish Species in Oregon
Both fresh and saltwater bodies in Oregon are home to an extensive range of fish species. Here are some of the most common ones.
Trout is the most popular fish species dwelling exclusively in freshwater bodies in Oregon. Trout species like the rainbow trout (the most popular trout species in Oregon), cutthroat trout, Brook trout, and redband trout, among others, can be found in freshwater streams, ponds, and lakes in Oregon.
Besides the native populations of trout fish, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) stocks more than 5 million trout in various water bodies in Oregon yearly. This enables anglers to engage in trout fishing throughout the year. However, Spring is the best time to go trout fishing in Oregon.
The ODFW usually begins stocking trout in reservoirs and lakes across Oregon at the beginning of Spring, so there’s plenty of fish to catch.
When ice fishing for trout, it’s best to focus on the area between the shallow and deep waters where the flats steeply drop off.
Trout usually swim to flat areas of the water during Winter to feed, then retreat to the deeper or central regions. So, if the flat area has a steep drop-off to deeper waters, you will find lots of trout.
Salmon is another common fish in Oregon’s fresh and saltwater bodies. The most common types include Chinook, Coho, and Chum salmon.
The best time to fish for Chinook and Chum salmon is typically July to October. On the other hand, Coho salmon are more abundant between July and November.
When it comes to ice fishing for salmon, it’s essential to know that they dwell in the deep areas of the water. They also migrate far and wide (usually in schools), making catching them challenging. So, when ice fishing for this fish, it’s best to dig deep (between 15-80ft) below the surface of frozen lakes and other water bodies to catch them successfully.
Freshwater lakes across Oregon are packed with various bass fish species, from smallmouth bass to largemouth bass and hybrids. Bass fishing is normally successful during these seasons; the pre-spawn season (usually around April), summer, and early Fall.
When ice fishing for bass, it’s recommendable to concentrate on humps, rock piles, and reefs between 20-30ft deep.
Other common fish species in Oregon include yellow perch, crappies, anchovies, albacore tuna, and catfish, to mention a few.
Equipment and Gear
Here are the essential equipment and gear ice anglers need when going ice fishing.
Ice Fishing Rods and Reels
Unlike typical fishing rods, ice fishing rods are quite short, ranging from 18-48 inches long. They’re small to allow anglers to catch fish comfortably since they need to stay close to the hole.
Most anglers prefer jigging rods (with a fast to medium action), although others, especially amateur ice anglers, prefer spinning rods.
As for the material, graphite is more sensitive, making it suitable for jigging rods. On the other hand, fiberglass material is also a good option since it is more durable in freezing temperatures. With fishing reels, it’s always recommended to match the type and material of the rod with the reel, enabling them to work together perfectly.
A tip-up is an excellent alternative for those new to ice fishing, as it is easier to use. Tip-ups have a flag attached to their reels. So, when the target fish takes the bait, the reel turns, simultaneously releasing the flag and line, causing the flag “tip up” and alerting the angler that they have caught a fish.
An Ice Auger
This is one of the vital equipment you should have when going ice fishing. When choosing an ice auger, be sure its blades with drill holes that will enable you to reel up your target fish easily.
It’s also recommended to check the blades for damages before going to fish, especially if you are renting this equipment. You’ll also need an ice scoop to clear the ice from your fishing holes.
Ice Fishing Clothing
The type of clothing you wear when ice fishing is essential as you will be staying out in the cold Winter weather for hours. You need ice fishing suits, layers of clothing, insulated boots, ice fishing gloves, a scarf and a hat, ice cleats, and ice safety picks.
You’ll need fishing equipment like a fish finder and an underwater camera, portable ice fishing shelters, bait and lures, and an ice fishing rod blank and tackle.
When it comes to renting or purchasing these pieces of equipment, there are some you can buy, while there are others you can rent, like ice augers, especially if you occasionally go ice fishing.
Regulations and Restrictions
Oregon doesn’t have specific laws regarding ice fishing. However, there are some fishing restrictions in most ice-fishing lakes and reservoirs across the state.
Oregon is typically divided into nine fishing zones, and the inland zones are further divided into six angling zones. They include the Northwest zone, Southeast zone, Northeast zone, Southwest zone, Williamette zone, and Central zone. Each of these zones is broken into several fishing districts.
Every fishing zone has regulations on the number of fish one can catch, the size limit of the fish, and other restrictions. Each fish species has its regulations.
As for licensing requirements, the state doesn’t require you to have a specific license for ice fishing. However, you still need to have a valid fishing license.
Tips and Techniques for Ice Fishing
While successful ice fishing involves understanding different target fish species’ behaviors, especially during Winter, there are other tips you need to have up your sleeve. Let’s look at a couple of them.
1. Stick to One Fishing Technique for a Start
Knowing several fishing techniques is great, but sticking to one is essential, at least for a start. Sticking to one strategy enables you to master it, making it easy to catch fish.
2. Don’t Go Fishing Blindly
Unlike regular fishing, ice fishing is challenging as the fish behave differently during Winter, and when you drill a hole, you cannot tell if there are any fish underneath. That is why it’s best to use fish electronics such as a fish finder to help you locate fish much quicker.
3. Don’t Stay in One Spot
During regular fishing, anglers don’t stay in the same spot, especially when they are not catching any fish. This should be the same with ice fishing. Exploring different areas in the ice-fishing lakes and reservoirs increases the chances of catching fish.
4. The Lighter, the Better
Using lighter lures and baits when ice fishing is a better option. During Winter, water conditions are calmer, so a light lure or bait will not spook the fish but will still be noticeable enough to attract fish.
5. Pause on the Old “Up and Down” Jigging Motion
Many anglers are used to moving their jigs in an up-and-down motion, but it is not always successful in reeling in fish.
Try holding your fishing line between your index finger and thumb and twisting it for a change. This will cause the lures or bait to spin while remaining in the same position in the water, and it is more likely to catch your target fish’s attention.
6. Best Bait and Lures for Ice Fishing
It’s important to note that it is illegal to use live fish as bait when fishing in Oregon. Some fishing zones prohibit anglers from using any other live bait, and others only allow people to use artificial lures. So, it’s best to check the rules and regulations in your fishing zone before going out to fish.
Vibrating baits are an excellent choice for the best lures for ice fishing. These lures are ideal for attracting your target fish’s attention from afar. Jigs and spoon lures are also great for ice fishing.
Best Time of the Year to Go Ice Fishing in Oregon
The ice fishing season in Oregon begins in late December and ends around February, with most ice-fishing lakes and reservoirs freezing over to a safe level around January. However, remember that this depends on how intense the Winter season is each year.
There is plenty of fish still active during Winter. While the ODFW doesn’t stock rainbow trout fingerlings in different lakes and reservoirs until Spring, there still are holdover trout (those stocked the previous year) active during Winter. Yellow perch also actively feed throughout Winter, making them easy to catch.
The best time of the day to go ice fishing is usually a few hours after sunrise and before and after sunset. Most fish species actively feed during these times of the day.
Winter isn’t a season to store away your fishing gear and equipment, as you can still enjoy ice fishing. Fortunately, there are many spots in Oregon where you can go ice fishing.
Remember to carry all the necessary equipment and check the rules and regulations regarding fishing in your area. Again, we cannot stress enough how important it is to look out for your safety before going fishing.
Always ensure the ice is thick enough before heading out into the frozen lakes and reservoirs. Going with a partner who’ll seek help if anything happens is also recommended.
You can also wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) just in case you fall through thin ice. It’s also best to take a metal digging bar with you to check for thin ice.