Winter fishing can mean real big catch
Winter fishing, particularly in a winter like this with a deep freeze gripping western Colorado like a too-small hat, is a tale of two waters.
The first is Lake Powell, that immense reservoir three hours west where most of us venture only during the other three seasons of the year.
The other waters are those smaller, popsicle-like rivers hiding under a glacial mantle of ice and snow.
The benefit of Lake Powell is that it rarely freezes, and with January temperatures reaching into the high 40s you might have the place to yourself.
A recent Lake Powell report said several boat ramps remain open, including Bullfrog, Wahweap and Hall’s Crossing.
Water temperatures hover around 45 degrees, and in some of the protected bays you’ll find water noticeably warmer.
Maybe you’ll run into a fish like the one caught Jan. 20 by 13-year-old Jesse Pond of Denver.
Jesse was fishing with his father, Sean Pond, when the younger Pond hooked a 28.3-pound striper while trolling near Forgotten Canyon, where Defiance House Ruin is located.
According to an email from Pond, the 43-inch fish took about 40 minutes for his son to land.
“When I got it to the surface (I realized) its head was bigger than the net and it was simply not going to work,” Sean wrote. “I stuck my hand in his mouth and he clamped down with what felt like a ton of presser (sic), I remember thinking thanks god (sic) it’s not a walleye!”
The Lake Powell record for stripers was set in 1991 when Travis Wilson caught a 48-pound,11-ounce fish near Wilson Creek on the San Juan Arm.
Closer to home, anglers intent on avoiding the shelf ice along most rivers are heading to tailwaters at the base of dams, where water emerges at around 42 degrees.
“We’ve been fishing the Uncompahgre at Paco-Chu-Puk, the Taylor, we even fished the Gunnison (River) below Morrow Point,” said Phil Timms at Western Anglers Fly Shop on Grand Junction.
He said the latter was easy to reach because the road from U.S. Highway 50 near Cimarron ends near the river.
“The only problem is sometimes (the Bureau of Reclamation) turns off the water” and you have fish the resulting pools, he said. “If you’re nymphing you won’t get a drift. but streamers do fine.”
The risks of walking on shelf ice can’t be overstated, Timms said.
“We recommend people never go out on the shelf ice,” he said. “There are places on the Gunnison where the ice is 6-10 inches thick but there is running water underneath, constantly weakening the ice.”
While weekends often find substantial numbers fishing the few open spots, Grand Junction angler Carol Oglesby recently found the Paco-Chu-Puk stretch of the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Dam relatively unscathed.
“It wasn’t too bad, although there were other anglers there,” said Oglesby. “A lot of people were catching fish. I caught a real nice cutthroat and a nice rainbow near the end of the day.”
Timms recommended anglers use forceps or hook degorgers to unhook fish without removing them from the water.
Even a second or two in the frigid air can cause gill damage, he warned.
The veteran angler said that even in mid-winter there are plenty of opportunities for the determined angler.
“If you really want to fish there are places to go,” Timms said. “You can hike up the Gunnison Gorge where you’ll find sections without ice. It may not be ideal, but on sunny days some of the fish will push up out of the deeper runs to feed.”