The vertical angle of winter

Ice fishing is a social time for anglers to drop a line and wait for fish

A sunny day at Blue Mesa Reservoir draws anglers with like-minded friends, waiting on the bite.  Blue Mesa can be very good for average-sized trout, but is also a destination for anglers seeking lunker lake trout.

Karl Brooks of Montrose works a plastic jig down about 20 feet, trying for that next “big one” at Blue Mesa Reservoir.  Active jigging is very effective when the bite is light.

Rainbow trout are the most-caught species when ice fishing at Blue Mesa Reservoir.  Good size for the smoker, these fatties were fooled by a jig tipped with a meal worm.

We all learned at an early age how the earth revolves around the sun. Combined with a slight tilt of the earth, seasons of warm and cold follow the revolution.

Changes are minor in the middle latitudes and extreme in the northern and southern bands. Colorado is somewhere in-between.

I like in-between.

I like fishing between the betweens. Summer between fall between winter between spring. Similar to the differing angle of the sun from summer to winter, our winter casts can take on a different angle.

Casting in summer is a horizontal command of laying out a fly or a lure intended to place our offering out and away. Although I also engage in horizontal casting in the winter, the game becomes where to drop a vertical line through a hole.

Judged odd by those not of the faith, ice fishing is so stupid it’s fun. How else can you describe cutting a hole in a frozen lake and waiting for the fish to come to you?

As with any sport, gear can be minimal to all-out. Minimal means stuff you already have — the summer spinning rod, the tackle box of lures, the winter boots and coat, the truck, and the peanut butter sandwich for lunch.

However, you will need an ice auger or go with a friend who has one.

All-out psychotically justifies a specialized short rod or two or more, a second rod stamp, sled, bucket, power auger, electronic fish finder, underwater camera, portable shelter and maybe an ATV or snowmobile to haul it all with.

Choose your spot for solidarity or sociability. Unlike summer fishing, where we want the place all to ourselves, ice fishing is communal.

Remember, you are standing over a hole in the ice, waiting for the fish to come to you, so it’s not like the nearby fanatic is stealing your secret spot.

Jeez, I’ve had days of getting no bites, yet my so-called buddy, only a few feet away, is working up a sweat from all the action.

With the variety of lakes around to fish, primarily reservoirs, there is a variety of fish species to chase.

Most often it is trout, commonly catchable-sized rainbow trout. But there also are brown trout, lake trout, kokanee, yellow perch, crappie, pike, splake and a few other less-common species. They can be targeted using differing gear, water depths, noted reservoirs and baits and lures.

Popular offerings include the same baits one would use in summer, such as salmon eggs, worms, or power baits, small lures (usually spoons or jigs instead of spinners), or realistic plastic imitations. Meal worms are popular because, although delicate and difficult to keep on a hook with a forceful summer cast, with a vertical drop they stay on a hook and seem irresistible.

My favorite go-to for trout is a lead-head crappie jig with either a pre-tied maribou hook or a bare jig loaded with a plastic tube. Actively jigged, this lip-hooks fish and allows me to release most unharmed.

Crappie and perch prefer small jigs, pike and lake trout favor sucker meat or large lures, and kokanee fall for flashy vertical spoons and lures.

Augers are a trade-off. Hand augers are inexpensive, lightweight, portable and sufficient for most situations. Power augers are the opposite — expensive, heavy, and not so great to lug around — but superior for thick ice and the fisherman who moves around to locate different depths and underwater terrain.

The same can be said of shelters. Catch a nice day, and why bother hauling and setting up a shelter? But if the weather is biting, then a shelter is cozy.

Favorite hard-water destinations for me include Vega State Park, Rifle Gap State Park, Island Lake on Grand Mesa, Crawford State Park, Blue Mesa Reservoir and Miramonte State Wildlife Area near Norwood.

Most have trout, but some are known better for the other species.

Much like any other winter activity, dress appropriately, put on the sunscreen and take advantage of a season of vertical casting. Enjoy the different angle of winter.


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