Ice fishing: No boat, no problem
It’s not quite what it sounds like and yet not too different either.
All you need is a desire to catch fish — perhaps your biggest fish of the year — while spending a few hours outdoors when the temperature hovers somewhere south of double digits.
Ice fishing is the great equalizer, allowing even those of us who are boat-challenged to cover every inch of a lake no matter how big it is.
According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, more than 25 percent of all Colorado anglers spend some time on the ice each year.
First, of course, you need ice, which in western Colorado is in plentiful supply from roughly mid-November through late February.
Early ice is considered the best for fishing for several reasons but it’s also the most dangerous.
Two inches is safe for one person, four inches for a small group, six or more is OK for those who travel by snowmachine to distant spots on that favorite lake.
Fish start feeding in earnest when water temperatures drop and days get short.
They’ll continue to feed as the ice forms on top of them, and dropping a lure or bait through the first safe ice of the year can be very productive since it might be the first bit of food the fish have seen since the ice went overhead.
Small jigs, spoons or plastic baits work well, as do the typical natural baits such as earthworms, mealworms and larvae. The livelier the bait the more it will attract fish, so keep those containers warm (you don’t really have to stuff your cheeks with mealworms, it’s just a fish story, honest).
Short rods and small reels with light-test line (4-8 pounds) work fine for most fishing, particularly for the perch, crappie, bass and trout found in most western Colorado reservoirs.
Larger quarry, such as northern pike and lake trout, calls for stouter rods and heavier line. You have to put some muscle into heaving a 15-pound pike through an 8-inch hole in the ice, and you don’t want to worry about cutting your line on the ice.
But how do you find those fish, since everyplace you look is ice, ice, ice?
A good auger, of course, is vital and there’s something heartening about the feel of a power auger eating its way through even the most-difficult winter-hardened ice.
Forget the glass-bottomed bucket. Special winter-adapted electronics, including GPS units, sonar fish-finders and even underwater cameras are more popular and more affordable each year.
You can find suitable electronics at most fishing stores and online catalogs. Once you see how much more fun it is watching fish swarming to your lure, you’ll never go back to staring dully into a black hole.
Don’t forget a pair of good boots and maybe some down-filled overalls, since there is some standing around involved. Some of the better boots, lined with space-age insulation, will keep your tootsies warm to well below zero.
Other handy ice-fishing equipment you’ll want to have (hey, nobody ever has too much fishing gear or too many dogs, shotguns, or pickup trucks) include a portable shelter to protect you from the cold and wind; a rod-holder or two and something to sit on; and a sled to carry all that cool stuff across the ice.
Toss in thermos of hot tea or coffee for those particularly cold days on Blue Mesa Reservoir (save the adult beverages for later) and some sunscreen for the bright days of spring and you’ll discover a whole new world of winter fishing.
Some ice-fishing hot spots:
One hour or less:
• Most Grand Mesa Lakes: rainbow trout, Colorado River and Snake River cutthroat trout
• Vega Reservoir: Rainbow trout
Two hours or less:
• Rifle Gap Reservoir: Yellow perch, rainbow trout, brown trout, northern pike, and black crappie
• Harvey Gap Reservoir: Yellow perch, crappie, bluegill, rainbow trout, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass
• Eagle State Wildlife Area Ponds: Rainbow trout
• Lake Avery (east of Meeker) rainbow trout, Snake River cutthroat trout
• Rio Blanco Reservoir (west of Meeker): northern pike, bass
• Crawford Reservoir State Park: crappie, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike
More than two hours:
• Blue Mesa Reservoir: Rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, yellow perch; lake trout
• Miramonte/Dan Noble State Wildlife Area (near Norwood): Rainbow trout
• Elkhead Reservoir (near Craig): rainbow trout, northern pike, smallmouth bass, bluegill and crappie
• Taylor Park Reservoir (north of Gunnison): lake trout, rainbow trout.
Throughout the winter, the Division of Wildlife regularly updates its weekly fishing report on the DOW website, wildlife.state.co.us.