Ice fishing in the winter sunshine

By Don Benjamin

Ice fishing in the winter sunshine | Ice fishing, Crawford Reservoir, Crawford State Park,

Photo by Don Benjamin Look closely and you can see David Stott of Grand Junction (left) taking a souvenir photo of Bekah Scalero and the catch she pulled through the ice at Crawford Reservoir. Scalero, who relocated to Hotchkiss from Florida, is used to l

The folks at Crawford State Park hosted their annual ice fishing clinic on Jan. 27 and they couldn't have ordered better weather. With clear skies, no wind, and temperatures in the mid-40s fishermen young and old enjoyed a sunny day on the ice. Thirty enthusiasts attended the classroom portion of the clinic conducted at the park visitor center by Senior Ranger Scott Rist. Then the group fanned out on the 400-acre reservoir to try their luck.

During the indoor clinic, Ranger Rist explained that Crawford Reservoir is essentially a sprawling meadow that has been dammed for irrigation purposes. Consequently the reservoir -- though large -- is fairly shallow and featureless. This causes the fish -- especially the reservoir's many perch and crappie -- to "school up" and swim around in search of shelter while they strive to feed and avoid predators like northern pike. The bad news is the fish are constantly on the move; the good news is, once an angler locates a school, there should be multiple fish present. In addition to nervous perch and crappie and predatory pike, the diverse reservoir also contains bass, catfish and trout, all of which have different preferences for water temperature and feeding.

Rist outlined a strategy for ice fishing. He suggested drilling multiple fishing holes and moving frequently in case the fish aren't biting in one location. It's also a good idea to periodically jig the line up and down to attract fish but not too much because strikes from fish in cold water can be subtle and difficult to detect. By the same token, the hook should be set with a steady pull rather than a sharp yank. And if a lure isn't working, it's best to switch to bait (meal worms or regular worms or power-bait) or try a different lure. He also recommended changing the depth, starting at the bottom then reeling up to try shallower depths to discover where the fish are feeding. A helpful aid for determining the ideal fishing depth is a fish-finder specifically designed for ice fishing. Rist demonstrated the use of various fish-finders.

Rist stated that, "Ice fishing is a fun family activity that you can enjoy with relatively little equipment." He listed basic equipment needed for ice fishing, most of which can be purchased inexpensively:

• A short rod and light-weight reel with two to six-pound test line

• Lures including tear-drop spoons, or Ratfinkee™ jigs, or Gulp™ minnows

• An auger for drilling ice holes

• An ice scoop for clearing ice chips out of a drilled hole

• A utility bucket to carry gear and fish and to sit on

• A sled to carry gear

Although there will be no more clinics offered this year, ice fishing kits which include everything but a sled are available for free check-out from the Crawford State Park visitor center. Fish-finder devices are also available for checkout. The kits and fish-finders are limited in number and available on a first-come-first-served basis so they tend to go early, especially on the weekends.

Participants in the Jan. 27 clinic enjoyed the event and found it helpful to learn the basics. Dave and Cathy Brown of Cedaredge said, "The rangers were fun and very knowledgeable. The weather was beautiful and we learned a lot about equipment." The Browns agreed the clinic was worthwhile and Cathy added that the hot dogs and s'mores served at lunchtime were great!

Reflecting back on her experience another participant, Bekah Scalero of Hotchkiss said, "I have been telling everyone I've talked to about how stoked I am to get out ice fishing again soon. I love that the state park is able to check out ice fishing equipment free to the community!"

Including the clinic participants there were over a hundred fishermen trying their luck on Jan. 27 and the folks at Desperado gas station and general store near the reservoir reported a busy Saturday. As for the rest of the winter, the ice on Crawford Reservoir remains solid for the time being but warming temperatures may cut the ice fishing season short. Before traveling to the reservoir the public should call during regular business hours to check on ice conditions. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and the phone number is 970-921-5721. The Crawford State Park Visitor Center is located at 40468 Highway 92, a few miles south of the town of Crawford. Call for more information, or visit the Crawford State Park Facebook page.