A clear road to ice fishing

Though travel may be sketchy, cold-weather anglers have plenty of fun

A gang of ice fishermen congregate at Crawford Reservoir south of Hotchkiss. Unlike warm-weather fishing, many ice anglers find spots to catch fish close together.

Crawford Reservoir typically holds crappie, which can be difficult to detect because of their soft bite. The fish typically exhibits beautiful hues of black, blue, green, and silver sparkling in the sun.

To a driver on a winter road, a sheet of ice is not only undesirable, it is dangerous. In extreme cases, the road becomes impassable. Or to another extreme, in some northern climates — as evidenced by a television show — truckers use temporarily frozen waterways to their advantage to make deliveries.

Ice fishing is sort of like that television show. Lakes that freeze over in the winter become the highway, providing access to the lake with no need for lanes or turn signals.

Some ice fishing lakes may require scooting down an embankment or a snow filled trail through the trees. But once you are out on the ice, mobility is easy.

Open terrain around the lake, combined with a flat, windblown surface, make walking easy.

If a lake is protected, somewhat in a bowl or grove of trees, the snow instead can accumulate and may be deep.

Most ice fishermen are walkers, carrying a bucket or pulling a sled with their gear. Some use a snowmobile, particularly if they plan to head out some distance.

Regardless, you are free. Go anywhere you want, pick any spot, and move around if you want.

So how do you decide where to plop your gear? Ice fishing is funny in that regard.

In summer, fishermen seek out solitude, but ice fishermen tend to bunch up. Strangers are content to have someone only a short distance away.

But there is usually the outlier, someone who trudges off some distance, maybe for solitude, or maybe for a specific spot where they have had luck before.

Or it may just be random, which is not all bad, but it may be selective based on expectations of water depth, known underwater structure, underwater springs, inlets, coves, or shore points.

This all assumes the ice thickness is supportive and safe. It only takes a few inches to support your body weight, but figuring in your gear, 6 inches is a safe minimum, or 10 inches if you have a snowmobile.

Once you have claimed your space, getting down to business means drilling a hole and setting up an optional shelter if you have one.

I notice about half of all ice anglers use a shelter, and there are pros and cons that come with that.

Colorado regulations do not allow the use of a permanent shelter is common in the northern climates. Lightweight tent-like popup shelters have evolved to be very manageable and inexpensive. They provide warmth by breaking the wind and one can bring a portable heater.

However, they are one more thing to buy, something to carry, and they are limiting if you want to move around. That spot you chose may not be a good spot, and to move a shelter complicates matters.

An electronic fish finder is another piece of gear that is optional but highly effective. Plenty of fish have been caught without the use of a fish finder, but a whole lot more have been caught specifically due to employing one. Consider it just high tech information for three specific data points.

First, it tells you the water depth. Second, it tells you where the fish are in the water column to adjust your lure depth.

Third and most important, it tells you if there are any fish moving through the area.

If it’s one of those days when fishing is great and everybody is catching, electronics are superfluous.

Otherwise, someone can sit for a long time without a bite wondering if there are even any fish there. Electronics answer that. No fish marking on the graph means it’s time to move.

I usually drill three holes, close together for shallow, some space for deeper to allow the transducer cone to cover both rods. I buy a second rod stamp, setting up my two rods in the outside holes and my fish finder in the middle hole. The graph can see both lures, and I don’t have to remove the transducer cord to pull a fish.

Certain species of fish can also be targeted. Most lakes in our area have rainbow trout stocked, but there are also crappies and perch at Crawford, kokanee salmon at Blue Mesa, splake trout at Island Lake on Grand Mesa, and trophy lakers at Blue Mesa.

Wherever you go or whatever you’re after, just remember one thing: Have fun!


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