The Lure of Ice
Even in the dead of an Idaho winter, Magic Reservoir draws hundreds of sportsmen to its flat expanse, gathering to commune with nature and each other.
PHOTOGRAPHY Tal Roberts
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(Clockwise from top left) Paul Hopfenbeck eyes the ice; Sportsmen exercise their right to assemble; Hod Swanson shows off the catch of the day; This Magic elder uses a powerauger to get through the reservoir ice.
It’s the serenity of it, and it’s the anticipation.” – Bill Tormey
Despite their penchant for watching the sunrise, Hopfenbeck and Tormey also revel in the chaos of a typical day on the ice. “It’s fun to be a part of the camaraderie,” says Tormey. “And everyone is having a good time and choosing to be outside instead of sitting in front of the television set.”
Tormey’s comment speaks to the duality of ice fishing: It is as much about friends’ company as it is about enjoying and culling dinner from the great outdoors.
Ice fishing season begins on Magic as soon as the weather turns cold and the ice begins to form. Fishers wait for it to thicken more than six inches, but impatience sometimes gets the best of them. There are times when the ice is still too thin.
Hopfenbeck describes the tentativeness with which fishers take to the ice in the early season. They remain close to the lake’s shores, unsure of their footing, not yet ready to trust nature’s work.
At Magic, the fish are often plentiful, and the fishing, once set up, can be rather easy. Before anglers relax and wait for a bite, they invest in their chosen patch of ice, sculpting it to fit their needs. They sweep snow aside, often with their boots. Then, using a hand or gas-powered auger, they drill a hole, usually eight inches in diameter, into the concrete-hard surface. The quickness with which a hole is created only confirms the fragility of the situation: It’s only a layer of frozen water protecting a man from the frigid depths below.
With holes drilled, a fisher will spend most of his day scrambling from hole to hole, clearing built-up slush or ice and checking on poles. Ice fishing is not a one-pole sport. One angler will have as many as six lines going in six different holes at once.
They fish with the bottom of their lines only a foot or so above the reservoir’s bottom. To know a line’s location in the water, a fisher relies on a combination of habit and intuition. With their hands alone, they can sense the slightest change, from where the bait is located to whether a fish is nibbling—no matter how deep.
While fly-fishers are finicky about their rods and flies, ice fishers are nonchalant. Poles are affordable and dispensable. It’s OK, for example, when one is pulled through a hole by a hungry fish. And bait is versatile. Fishers use anything from corn kernels to colorful marshmallows, favored for their buoyancy. Hopfenbeck and Tormey often bait their lines with night crawlers or the eyes of perch to catch more perch.
“What the fish are attracted to varies day to day,” says Hopfenbeck. “One thing will work one day, and then you’ll never get a bite the next.”
The catch at Magic is primarily perch and trout. Perch are iridescent little fish, gray on top with darker gray stripes running across their backs. Their bottoms are lighter, almost gold, with two bright orange fins. Tormey and Hopfenbeck say they particularly love to filet perch and often cook them while they’re still on the ice.
“You just drop them into hot water, and they curl up,” says Hopfenbeck. “Tastes like a little piece of lobster. Heat up some butter and dip it in.” >>>