When the snows begin to fly and the lakes freeze over, many an angler pack up their gear, wait out the freeze and dream of warmer days. Not so for hard core hardy souls who relish the idea of sitting on a frozen lake staring at an 8 inch hole hoping to coerce a fish to take their bait or lure.
Ice fishing is a pastime best served up cold and Colorado provides just what the avid ice fisherman needs; long cold winters, a plethora of frozen lakes and reservoirs, a lot of fish, and a population of stalwart fishermen.
Here on the Front Range, Elevenmile Reservoir, Spinney Mt. Reservoir, Tarryall Reservoir, and Manitou Lake are a few of the popular spots for ice fisherman to test their skills and bring home their limit of nice big trout.
There is a whole industry dedicated to ice fishing. From portable warming huts, to electronic fish finders there are a seemingly unlimited array of tools and gadgets to make your ice fishing outings more enjoyable and more successful. A well equipped ice fisher will have a warming hut, portable heater, fish finder, ice auger, a quality fishing pole/reel combo, warm boots and clothing, and of course, a cooler full of snacks and refreshments, not to mention a sled to haul all that gear out to a fishy location. In some locations (check your local regulations) you can drive your car or snowmobile out onto the ice and set up a virtual base camp.
Even with all the trappings and the latest gear, you still have to have a pretty good idea of where and when the fish will be biting.
So you’ve geared up and headed out to do some ice fishing. You’ve set up your shelter, bored your ice hole and have your strainer handy to keep your ice hole free of reforming ice and ice shards.
Here are some helpful tips to having a successful trip:
Certain ice-fishing species favor specific habitats and conditions. Knowing where they’ll be helps you catch fish more effectively.
1. Rainbow trout seem to prefer bait lowered just several feet below the ice, even if the maximum depth is much deeper. Brook trout can be found down there. Opportunists that they are, lake trout tend to take big baitfish just off the lake bottom.
2. Dubbed “panfish” since they’re fish that will fit in a pan, bluegills, perch and crappies (pronounced crop-pees) often provide consistent winter action when others won’t. Still, this doesn’t mean they’re pushovers. Use thin 2-pound test lines, small hooks, and tiny baits (bits of worm or small shiners) to fool this tasty quarry. Such fish often take bait gently with a tap-tapping. Set the hook when you detect this.
3. Winter largemouth and smallmouth bass tend toward the lethargic. Loafing under the ice, they’ll respond to jigging and even well-placed bait. Sometimes dropping your line’s business end on the edge of weedbeds and along drop-offs provides options for these staged gamefish.
4. Northern pike hang in structure beneath the ice, often in fairly shallow water, and move fast to strike prey (and your fluttering baitfish).
5. Walleyes hang close to the bottom. Adjust your techniques and locations accordingly.
BONUS TIP: Weather (and daylight, or lack of) can influence fish feeding binges. A mild day above freezing temperatures with solid ice can put fish on the bite, while a lingering deep freeze can put them off. Heavy snow cover piled up on the ice overhead sometimes sees winter fish feed during brighter daylight hours. Alternately, clear ice on sunny days might reveal low-light biting tendencies. Daybreak and dusk are often productive then.