OUT: Ice fishing, Christmas tree hunting in full swing on Grand Mesa

Keith Walters of Grand Junction adjusts his snowshoes prior to a weekend hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. Walter might not have needed the snowshoes Saturday but this week’s forecast is calling for a foot or more of new snow on Grand Mesa.



Steve Stires, owner of Mesa Lakes Lodge, examines some of the ice fishing equipemnt he sells at the lodge on Grand mesa. Stires began the 2009 icefishing season this weekend with an outing on Beaver Lake.



MESA LAKES — Steve Stiers’ walrus-sized mustache had barely defrosted Saturday when a nosy visitor cornered the owner of Mesa Lakes Lodge to query about early season ice fishing on Grand Mesa.

Stiers, a large-framed rambling sort who easily fills a doorway or one of the comfortable seats in the redecorated lodge’s dining room, didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“Well, if you’d have been here about five minutes ago, you’d have seen us out on Beaver, catching fish,” Stiers said, nodding in the direction of the ice-capped lake no more than 100 yards from his doorway.

His friend Kurt Thompson and Thompson’s son, Mike, came up from Molina and “we had a fine time,” Stiers said.

The current blizzard excepting, most of the Grand Valley’s weather this fall has been decidedly unwinterlike, making ice fishing seem a lost hope.

A resident of the lowlands might be expected to think the rest of the world (or at least what can be seen from the valley) has suffered a similar fate, but it’s been winter, really winter, on Grand Mesa for a while now.

Maybe it has something to do with having 13 moons this year.

“Yeah, it’s been cold enough to make ice, that’s for sure,” said Stiers, now in his second year of running Mesa Lakes Lodge with his wife, Ann. “We have an easy 5 inches out on Beaver now, so it’s pretty solid right now.”

Stiers, who spent seven years in Wisconsin but never ice fished before moving to Grand Mesa, said all of his trio caught fish, with Mike Thompson’s four brook trout, including a 16-incher, as the best of the day.

“He caught 12 fish and he was standing at a hole not 5 feet from me,” said Stiers, voicing the exasperation felt by any ice angler who has watched another fisherman haul in fish.

Longtime ice anglers swear the best fishing is on early ice, but it’s also the most dangerous time.

While most of a lake might have a safe coating of ice, unseen springs and warm currents can keep isolated sections unsafe until well into the cold season.

A brief inspection Saturday of Beaver, Jumbo and Sunset lakes showed firm ice but plenty of open water around the outlets.

“Yeah, there are places I’d be careful about, like I’d stay away from the edges,” Stiers said of Beaver, “but most of the lake seems safe.”

Stiers was one of the few anglers seen on the ice last weekend, although there was plenty of traffic tying up lanes on Colorado Highway 65.

It’s Christmas tree season on Grand Mesa, and tree cutters were out in force, dragging a variety of evergreens out of the woods.

Putting on his snowshoes at the winter parking area near the Mesa-Delta county line, Keith Walters said he and wife, Janet, are old hands at tree harvesting.

“We’re headed out toward Flowing Park,” Keith Walters said, eyeing the sparse covering of snow. “I don’t know if I’ll really need these things. It’s not that far, and we’ve been out there before.”

Unlike most hopeful tree cutters, the Walterses had a destination in mind, along with several possible choices for that special tree to decorate for the holidays.

“We spotted some already this fall when we were out here cutting wood,” confided Janet Walters, tugging her fur-lined hood closer around her face and clutching a red-handled folding tree saw while Tristan, her Shetland sheepdog, tugged impatiently at his leash.

The lack of snow has delayed the start of snowmobile season, which meant the woods would be “lovely, dark and deep,” as Robert Frost wrote, and that was OK with the Walterses.

“We thought it would be the perfect day without all the snowmobiles around,” Janet Walters said. “It’s a great day for tree cutting.”


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