By Carl Madison
Today’s anglers are more mobile than ever before. Destination fisheries off the beaten path are enticing the curiosity of more and more anglers and this is true for ice anglers as well. Have rod, will travel. Anglers are exploring remote lakes on the Canadian Shield and driving considerable distances to reach water that has incredible fishing potential with light fishing pressure. Such a destination fishery that continues to attract attention for big fish potential is Fort Peck Reservoir in eastern Montana.
Fort Peck Reservoir is a massive impoundment on the Missouri River that is noted for producing huge walleyes, northern pike and lake trout for ice anglers. Walleyes over twelve pounds are possible. Abundant pike are found that can often measure over forty inches in length. Lake trout over twenty pounds are also a possibility. The main forage that drives these massive predators is ciscoes.
Eastern Montana is very remote and the remoteness is what gives Fort Peck Reservoir a certain mystique.
There are motels available in Glasgow, Fort Peck and Jordan but there is little to no development near the lake. Cabins are available at Rock Creek and Hell Creek. Hard core ice anglers who love big fish and a sense of adventure have fallen in love with Fort Peck.
One such angler is Jason Mitchell. Mitchell has fished Fort Peck numerous times and cites that the opportunities for big fish is the reason to make this body of water a destination but you have to do your homework. “Ice conditions can vary dramatically so we often use ATV’s and be very diligent about checking ice thickness. There are springs, current areas and even gas pockets that can form bad ice especially near the dam. We often fish the Dry Arm area but Hell Creek is also a popular area.” A great resource for checking ice conditions along with fishing reports is online at www.missouririver.visitmt.com.
Mitchell explains that walleyes can often be found on classic points and offshore humps that intersect deep water. Productive depths often range between twenty and forty feet of water with much of the action often taking place early in the morning, late in the evening or after dark. Lake Trout can also be found nearby and can show up anywhere from depths that range between twenty and sixty feet of water. In fact many lake trout are caught incidentally by walleye anglers.
Montana regulations allow for anglers to use six lines per licensed angler so this is a tip up anglers dream. Big lake trout have been known to completely spool tip ups but when you put a large chub or shiner down in the water, you have a realistic chance of catching a giant lake trout, walleye or pike. Anglers often spread tip ups across points and structure and jig in some holes with spoons tipped with a minnow. Large flutter spoons are extremely popular. Mitchell has seen some situations where anglers catch big trout, walleyes and pike off the same location.
For focusing on trophy pike, Mitchell adds that Fort Peck might be one of the best bets in the lower 48 states for catching consistent fish over forty inches right now and these fish can be targeted most of the winter. For pike, check the primary and secondary points along the shoreline in the larger bays. Anglers often hang oily dead bait like herring or smelt below tip ups.
If you have a quest for finding big fish, Fort Peck provides that opportunity. Anglers will have to do their homework and be prepared as this fishery can be remote. Mitchell has explained that he has fished this body of water for a week and seen very few other anglers. “We might see one or two other groups of anglers all week and they might be a mile or more away.” Cell phone coverage is also spotty and you are going to be alone on a big body of water so plan accordingly and fish with a group of anglers that know where you are.
This adventure destination is not for every ice angler but for the anglers who love to figure out fish locations and patterns on their own and have the opportunity to hook up with the fish of a lifetime, Fort Peck is special water. “I just love fishing this body of water, there is going to be nobody to hold your hand. The roads can often be in poor shape for getting on the lake and you always want to make sure you fill up with gas when you see a gas station,” explains Mitchell. Fort Peck however is one of Mitchell’s favorite bodies of water to fish. “What makes Fort Peck rugged and remote keeps anglers away and that is why the fishing is so good. If the roads were paved and there were a lot of people, this just wouldn’t be the same.”
Fort Peck Reservoir is a twelve hour drive from Minneapolis and a thirteen hour drive from Denver, smack dab in the middle of nowhere but if you love to fish, love adventure and especially love big fish, this part of the world is definitely worth the trip.