Ice fishing in New Mexico

Family fun with or without the sun

Although sometimes the weather isn’t the most hospitable for ice fishing when the temperature drops to freezing and the wind picks up, with the right planning, preparation and gear, a day of ice fishing can be quite rewarding and fun for the whole family.

One wouldn’t think that ice fishing is a thing in the desert of New Mexico, but believe it or not, it has become quite popular and continues to gain attraction among the fishing public. Although Mother Nature may not manufacture the right conditions for all lakes in northern New Mexico year-after-year, when she does, you can find hundreds to thousands of anglers racing to their favorite spots with augers in hand.

Some of the most popular ice fishing spots in New Mexico include Fenton Lake, Cabresto Lake, Sugarite Canyon State Park and Eagle Nest Lake. Lakes that are not open to taking fish from or through the ice include Santa Cruz Lake, Bonito Lake and Springer Lake. Ice fishing is legal on all other waters unless otherwise prohibited. The weather can change quickly in New Mexico so make sure you do some research on whether the lake you are going to is open or closed prior to heading out.

Above: Ice fishing at Eagle Nest Lake. Department photo by Martin Perea.
Below: Elsa Frey, age 10, fishing at Eagle Nest Lake. Photo by Eric Frey.

“Eagle Nest Lake is probably the most popular ice fishing lake in New Mexico,” said Eric Frey, sportfish program manager for the Department of Game and Fish. “This 2,200-acre lake sits at 8,300 feet in elevation, has stunning mountain views and usually freezes hard enough every year to entertain ice fishermen.” Although the lake is stocked regularly with rainbow trout, one can also catch northern pike, yellow perch and kokanee salmon. Anglers have reported over the years that PowerBait, corn and jigs work best.

There are many different types of bait and tackle when it comes to ice fishing. Bait can range anywhere from a basic ice jig tipped with wax worms and salmon eggs to moonshine shiver minnows that glow in the dark. The variety of names for ice fishing jigging baits are enough to get one’s curiosity. Enough curiosity, I hope, for you to jump on the Internet and do some research.

Like all fishing tackle, ice fishing rods come in basic models. There’s the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2, which is very popular and costs just under $20, to the more expensive St. Croix Custom Ice Spinning rod that costs just over $120. The same goes for reels. My favorite is the Shimano ultra-light spinning rod for just over $20. Manufacturers do make reels that are priced over $100, but if you aren’t doing any more than catching trout and yellow perch, the $20 reels do just fine.

If you aren’t quite as warm-blooded as some folks, you will definitely want to wear plenty of clothing. For this type of fishing, I recommend layers. If you have been in New Mexico for any period of time, you have heard the saying, “if you don’t like the weather in New Mexico, wait five minutes.” This has been true for me on many occasions. It may be cold one minute and 70 degrees the next or vice versa. It just depends on how the weather in New Mexico is feeling that day. Dressing in layers of clothing allows one to take off and put on clothing as the weather changes, keeping you comfortable on your fishing trip.

If you are looking to pick a new hobby or would just like to try something new this winter, pick up a few of the ice fishing essentials, your fishing license, some warm clothes and head out to a frozen lake near you that is open to ice fishing. You never know: ice fishing might turn out to be the next big family or friend outing that you have been searching for.

Ice Fishing Essentials

Ice rods and reels:
— 24–36 inch or 40–48 inches depending on species you are targeting
— Ultralight reels
— Combo rod and reels are the way to go

Auger and accessories
— Hand auger

Ice scoop:
— This is essential for removing slushy ice that forms in the hole after you drill the hole.

Bait and Tackle
— Size 10 bait hooks
— Split shots
— Ice fishing jigs
— Variety of baits: PowerBait, Corn, Worms

Seat or bucket
A five-gallon bucket with a pad on the lid is a great seat. It can also be used to carry more gear to your fishing hole and store fish if needed.

Rod holders
Rod holders work great, especially when it’s a cold and windy day and you want to keep your hands warm in your pocket. Some of them even have flags to alert the angler when a fish is biting.

Pliers or hook removers
These are both great tools to have when ice fishing, they both work great for baiting, fish removal, and repairs without having to take your gloves off.

Sled to transport your gear
Whether it’s a long flat bottom sled or a round plastic sled, they come in really handy when transporting all of your gear to your fishing hole.

Ice fishing shelter
These shelters can range from $150 to $500 depending on size and accessories. These can make the family a little more comfortable and get you out of the elements if it begins to snow or the wind picks up. Remember to pick up some threaded peg ice fishing shelter stake nails to secure your shelter.

About Ross Morgan

Ross Morgan is the Public Information Officer in the Northwest Area for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.