Sometimes, you have to be close to the action to feel the light bite of a winter perch.
Cold weather and short rods. Trig Johnson shows off a rainbow trout hooked at Glasgow, Montana’s Home Run Pond, a kids-only fishing pond on the outskirts of this prairie town. Outdoor Life Hunting Editor Andrew McKean, along with his former colleagues at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, hosted a kids fishing day. For the youths who braved the chilly temperatures, the fishing was red-hot.
This part of Montana is Walleye Country, but 10-inch rainbow trout, like this one caught by Kaden Chatten, are big-game for young anglers. Plus, they can be fairly easy to catch with maggot-baited jigs and micro spoons through the ice.
The youngest ice fishermen need a little help from parents and other adult mentors. Fishing is no different from hunting; everyone gets started at their own speed, and this little boy wasn’t interested in releasing his first-ever fish…
… even if it did take him awhile to warm up to his catch.
Sunshine, a good friend and sugared drinks. The world is complete for these young ice fishermen.
Trout weren’t the only game in town. This girl scored on a fat perch, pulled through the ice during another kids’ icefishing festival on Fresno Reservoir near Havre, Mont.
Even Montana’s game wardens get in on the fun. Warden Dirk Paulsen helps a young angler get in the strike zone.
First fish for these two girls was this brace of Fresno Reservoir perch, which immediately got introduced to each other, lip-to-lip. Girls tend to be more patient, capable anglers than young boys, and the girls also tend to celebrate their catch more enthusiastically than 3rd grade boys, who can be stoic as any octegenarian angler.
Another girl. Another Fresno perch.
Perch weren’t the only species biting through the ice of Fresno Reservoir. A few northern pike hit maggot-baited spoons.
Not every angler was ecstatic with their success. This boy grimaces as he hoists a bloody lake whitefish.
Shortly after this hero shot of their northern pike, these girls discovered how northerns got their nickname “snot rockets.” They spend the next hour trying to get the slick slime off their clothes.
This boy demonstrates how to properly display a northern: at arm’s length.
The final OL/FWP ice fishing day was on Nelson Reservoir east of Malta, Mont. This icefishing shanty doesn’t exactly welcome visitors.
Nelson’s ice is more than two feet thick, thick enough for some anglers to drive right to their shanty’s door. For the rest of us, ice isn’t safe enough to drive on, no matter how thick.
Yellow perch were also the main catch at Nelson, which also holds walleye and some good-sized northern pike.
Once again, the girls score. This group shows both ends of the size spectrum, with the girl at the left showing the size of spottail shiners used as bait and another girl hefting a nice perch.
While the rest of his classmates consider icefishing a social occasion, this hard-core angler sticks to his hole.
Sometimes, you have to be close to the action to feel the light bite of a winter perch.
Best winter bait on Nelson Reservoir is spottail shiners, the smaller the better.
Perch fishing through the ice is sporadic. A flurry of bites is followed by hours of inattention.
Bumper sticker of a hard-core ice angler.
Montana game warden Mike Lee delivers prizes for the Nelson Reservoir fishing day: brand-new rod-and-reel combos.
First fish. This 5th grader investigates the spiny dorsal fin of a Nelson Reservoir perch. His buddies aren’t so quick to appreciate the catch.
Perch still life. Outdoor Life Hunting Editor’s previous career was working with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks as a writer and conservation educator. One of the best parts of his former job was introducing kids to fishing, even ice fishing.

Hunting Editor Andrew McKean takes Montana-area kids out for a day of icefishing.