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Hughes rainbow

Missoula resident Tyler Hughes caught this 12-pound rainbow trout on Christmas Eve ice-fishing at Beavertail Pond. 

Ice fishing got serious at the end of December, with anglers reporting well-frozen lakes and unwitting trout around western Montana.

“I had drilled the first hole on Harper’s Lake and was starting to drill a second, when the pole bent, then snapped and then the whole assembly ripped right down the hole,” Missoula ice fisherman Tyler Hughes said Thursday. “I have my 17-year-old daughter with me. She set up in the next hole and caught a 22-and-a-half-inch hen rainbow. It was her first fish through the ice.”

Hughes said he’d also had great luck at Georgetown Lake and Beavertail Pond, pulling a 12-pound rainbow out of the latter on Christmas Eve.

“The bigger fish are looking for the smallest of shrimp or maggots or broke-off pieces of worm you’ve got,” Hughes said. “Larger jigs sit untouched on every lake I go to.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 2 fisheries biologist Ladd Knotek said most of the popular lakes around Missoula have built up at least 5 inches of ice — enough to support an angler and gear. He recommended testing any water body for ice depth before heading out to ensure safety.

“If people are looking to catch a bunch of fish, Georgetown is the place to go,” Knotek said of the large lake south of Philipsburg. “That’s good for trout and salmon. If you want smaller perch and pike, go to Upsata Lake (near Ovando). Try Seeley Lake and Salmon Lake for pike and brown trout.”

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Knotek added that Beavertail Pond and Harper’s Lake both get regularly stocked fish from local hatcheries, including some very large 2.5-year-old brood trout. Browns and Georgetown lakes get stocked only with fingerlings, although they tend to grow large quickly.

“Browns Lake can be very temperamental,” Knotek said. “The catch rates are down, but the average size up. There are a lot of fish in there over 18 inches, but you won’t catch near as many.” 

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