Skillfully our pilots guide each bird, hovering steadily in a carefully controlled decent onto the lake. Spinning rotors scatter dusty snow, creating a micro blizzard that intensifies as we get closer to the surface. Eventually, amid swirling clouds of snow, the skids touch, and we settle into place. Vern shuts down, warning us to avoid the rear of the aircraft when exiting, as the rear rotor isn’t something we’ll want to challenge.
I unbuckle, open the door and step out, finding myself surrounded by a bright, white silence and steep precipices—one to my immediate right, devoid of trees, constitutes an obvious avalanche shoot. I stop for a moment to take it all in before helping Mike unload the auger and a Vexilar. At this point, we have no idea what the ice conditions are like, how thick or deep the snow. But it doesn’t take long to find out.
Shoveling down, we find 3-4 feet of snow, with a heavy layer of slush below. We still haven’t found the ice surface, when Mike suggests we try drilling. The electric motor whines as it works to drive the 5” diameter flighting through the sticky, wet slush. Even with the 12” shaft extension, the power head soon reaches the snow, and it appears we’re not even close to reaching water.
I suggest we shovel deeper down and try cutting “wings” on each side of the hole to accommodate the power head in an attempt to gain some cutting depth—a suggestion that turns out to be futile, as slush and water simply fill in the shoveled area and we gain nothing.
Moving to another spot, we only experience more of the same. I am able to get the transducer of my Vexilar into a water pocket and obtain a depth reading, but try hard as we might, the realization has set in: We won’t be able to fish here, the snow and slush are just too deep. This is disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.
The suggestion is made we fly back over Kalispell and try the range west of town, which at slightly lower elevation, features less snowpack. Everyone nods in agreement, and we’re soon leaving one remote area for another.
The next lake we choose is also undisturbed, but we find much better conditions: There’s very little snow and a good two feet of solid, blue ice present. Mike cuts a line of holes where we feel the primary depth break from the shoreline might be, as I follow with the Vex.
We continue along this shoreline contour, thinking this is where trout will likely cruise, turn along what appears to be a point formed by a shoreline rock slide and continue along in front of the inlet before drilling several holes mid-lake, where we’ll be able to check for suspended fish over deeper water–then grab our rods and anxious with anticipation, start dropping lines.