Angel Smith loves ice fishing so much, that even a potentially deadly fall through the ice didn’t deter him from going back.
The inherent risk of ice fishing caught up with him a few years ago when he fell through the ice and into the frigid water. Despite the harrowing experience, Smith told Cowboy State Daily that it gave him an opportunity to educate others.
“I used it as an opportunity to teach other people on my YouTube channel how to get out of the water and back on the ice if the ice breaks through,” he said.
“It was scary as hell, but if you know what you’re doing and you’ve taken the right precautions and have the right equipment, there’s no reason to be afraid. I wanted to show people that and it was a good opportunity to do it,” added Smith, who lives in Cheyenne.
He hosts the YouTube Channel “Everyday Pikachu Hat Fisherman” named for his habit of wearing a stocking cap fashioned after the beloved Pokémon character.
Need The Right Ice
Ice fishing draws hardy souls out into the freezing weather each winter, although sometimes the use of ice huts mitigates the brutal conditions.
To avoid potentially fatal spills into the icy water, such as what Smith endured, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department recommends waiting until ice is at least 4 inches thick.
The quality of ice also matters.
“Avoid fissures in the ice and significant-sized cracks that can emerge on a lake,” Game and Fish advise. “Clear ice is stronger than cloudy or white ice, which has frozen, thawed and refrozen.”
‘We’re In Peak Season’
Despite an unusually warm December, the recent plunge in temperatures put ice fishing season into full swing, avid angler Christopher Rice of Laramie told Cowboy State Daily.
“We’re in peak season. Right now the ice is anywhere between 6 and 8 inches,” he said. “It really did wait until the last minute to freeze up.”
Rice, who owns Gem City Custom Rod and Flies, ice fishes mostly on the Laramie Plains Lakes. He said the recent Lake Hattie Ice Fishing Derby went well.
“There were about 300 people out there,” Rice said.
As during the warmer seasons, fish during the winter are most active during the morning and evening, so those are the best times to go out on the ice, he added.
And for those who want to keep fishing open water with fly rods or spin-casting gear, there’s still some opportunity, Rice said.
“The Miracle Mile is still open, and fishing conditions there have been good,” Rice said.
The Miracle Mile is a section of the North Platte River near Casper famous for its excellent trout fishing.
The Satisfaction Of Teaching Others
What’s the allure of traipsing out on the ice and hanging out for hours during the worst time of year?
Chris Bobo of Casper, who travels all over Wyoming to ice fish, told Cowboy State Daily that he relishes the challenge.
For Bobo, the allure of ice fishing lies not only in the tranquil communion with nature, but also the anticipation of thrilling possibilities — the challenge of outsmarting fish, the exhilaration of that first powerful tug on the line, and the fulfillment of teaching others his skills.
“I love meeting new people. It’s a great feeling to live a life on the water where there is a massive community of ice fishermen,” Bobo said.
Bobo enjoys teaching others how to ice fish. The satisfaction of seeing someone catch a first fish under the icy surface is a reward in itself, he said.
“I love to see people succeed, for sure,” Bobo said.
He hosts a YouTube channel, Bobo’s Fishing Adventures, where he shares insights, tips and the excitement of his ice fishing adventures.
He also runs a Facebook group for ice fishing to help foster a place for enthusiasts to share the joy, challenges and triumphs of their pursuit.
“I try to make it fun for everyone and keep everyone safe. I hate seeing people get hurt on the ice,” Bobo said.
Smith said, that despite his brush with fate by going through the ice, the inherent risk of ice fishing is part of what’s kept him in the game.
“The reason I think a lot of people do it is for the risk. It’s the thrill and the adrenaline rush,” Smith said. “It’s a risk when you go out there on that ice, but that’s the one of the reasons I enjoy it.”
Trout Are A Mainstay
Trout are one of the most common species that ice anglers catch in southeast Wyoming, Rice said. There are also pike, perch and a few other species, and even suckers can be pulled out of frozen waters.
Bobo has set state records for catching suckers while ice fishing.
He broke the Wyoming record for longnose sucker when he landed a fish from the North Platte River in 2021 that weighed 2 pounds and 4.5 ounces. The following year he broke that record by catching a 2-pound, 11.3-ounce fish that was 1.5 inches longer than his first one.
Suckers aren’t good table fare, Rice said. He caught one during the Lake Hattie derby and cut it up to use as bait for more desirable species, which is a common practice.
“I wouldn’t eat one of those things if my life depended on it,” he said.
Great For Kids
The ice anglers also said that teaching the younger generation is part of the joy of ice fishing.
“My son enjoys it, and watching him makes me enjoy it more,” Rice said.
In 2020, Smith dedicated the entire year to teaching kids the art of ice fishing, fostering a new generation of anglers. That same year he also set a goal to grow the ice fishing community.
“I set a goal in 2020 to try and get 100 kids to fish and I ended up teaching way more than that,” Smith said. “I also wanted to grow a positive and responsive fishing community where we help and support each other.”
Despite Wyoming’s notorious biting winter winds, getting out on to the ice with friends and family is always worth it, Rice said.
“Some of the biggest trout I’ve ever caught have been through the ice. Ice fishing is yet another opportunity to catch quality fish,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.