Typically in early January it is easier to find ice in Montana than to avoid it. In fact, on many lakes by this time of year fishermen are brave enough (or foolish) to drive one-ton trucks across 12-18 inches of hard water.
2012 has been an oddity thus far. As of today, Fort Peck reservoir is still void of ice on most of its expanse. Canyon Ferry has some ice, but it also has some areas that are not safe for an angler on foot. By this date last year on my January ice-fishing trips, we were driving on roads that were carved out of snowbanks and drilling through 20 inches of solid ice.
On this first trip north, we changed up our normal routine somewhat. Instead of driving on the ice, Laura and I pulled our gear with ice skates. We made it to our destination in a matter of minutes and were fishing as soon as the holes were drilled. To save weight, we carried a hand auger instead of a gas unit, which wasn't an issue considering the ice was only ten inches thick.
While the fishing was less than stellar, it was nice to be back on the ice with nothing to worry about except keeping your fingers warm and your bait fresh. While there is a lot of technology available to ice fishermen these days, the simplicity of staring at a hole in the ice, waiting for a subtle tap on your line, is a refreshing change of pace. We only brought home enough perch and walleye for one meal and since it was months removed the last taste of fresh fish, it was a welcome treat. As was being back on Montana ice.