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Just Add Ice

Fishing in the Dead of Winter is Gaining Popularity

Used in the same sentence, the words “winter” and “fishing” may not resonate with many. But for a hearty crowd of rod-and-reel enthusiasts in Colorado, this is the perfect time of year to bring in the big one through a hole in the ice.

We’re known for our big fish, especially in the wintertime,” says Mark Young, a park ranger at Eleven Mile State Park, located just west of Lake George. “Of course, we have our die-hard fishermen who are looking to put a couple of trout in their freezer. There is another segment that’ll come out, and if it’s anything less than 20, 22 inches long, they’re tossing it back. They’re looking for the big one, something they can put on their wall.”

Ice fishing has become an emerging dead-of-winter pastime all around the Centennial State. The season is relatively short, running from December into late February, depending, of course, on how elevation and temperatures affect the thickness of the ice.

Chances are, there’s probably a suitable ice fishing destination near you. The state’s official tourism website, Colorado.com, lists several great ice fishing spots in Colorado. For example, they range from Chambers Lake (near Fort Collins); south to Trinidad (Trinidad Lake State Park); west to Harley Gap Reservoir (near Glenwood Springs); and many places in between, such as Twin Lakes Reservoir (near Leadville) and Chatfield Reservoir (just outside of Denver).

All you need, of course, is your basic fishing gear, a sense of adventure, plenty of layers of clothing and, of course, a fishing license – along with some common sense and plenty of ice. The thicker, the better.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife suggests a minimum of four inches for a walking individual and much more if you’re arriving via snowmobile, ATV, small pickup or larger vehicle.

But four inches in one locale won’t necessarily remain at that thickness, even a few feet away, so always make sure of your surroundings by drilling a test hole to make sure.

“Most of the questions I get revolve around the safety of the ice,” says Floyd Duran, senior ranger at Trinidad Lake State Park. “Of course, I never say it’s completely safe, just because of the kinds of different conditions that can change drastically. We have different terrain at our lake, and that’s true of any place you fish in the winter.”

Once you find your spot, use an auger to drill a hole completely through the ice, unpack your favorite bait and see what comes biting. Since Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocks its park waters heavily in spring and fall, there’s a good chance some of the state’s highly coveted trout – whether it be rainbow, brown, cut throat – along with northern pike, largemouth bass and even kokanee salmon, not to name them all, might be near your line.

While a few fishermen (and women) still go old school, sitting on a bucket while ice fishing, most have turned to climate-controlled ice huts – enclosed shelters – where they can take refuge from the elements.

“It can be 10- or 20-below with wind chill, but with an ice hut and a propane heater for warmth, you won’t be miserable,” Young says. “There are a few old timers left, but not so much anymore.”