Minutes before the start of last Saturday's ice fishing clinic at Crawford State Park, head ranger Scott Rist said he was hoping to double his anticipated number of attendees. "I'm expecting 10," said Rist (rhymes with "diced"), adding that there could be as many as 25.
By the 10 a.m. start time it was standing room only, as almost 40 eager anglers, ranging from a 2-year-old to those well into their retirement years, piled into the Crawford State Park visitor center to hear Rist's talk on the subject before heading out onto the ice to fish.
Many of the anglers came from as far away as Montrose and Grand Junction. Sam Hernandez drove from Grand Junction with a friend, and ran into another fishing buddy from Junction. As with most of the participants, Hernandez is a seasoned angler. "It's my preferred way to fish," said Hernandez, adding that he's only broken through the ice once. "If you're not fishing through the ice, you're not fishing."
According to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife, ice fishing has grown in popularity over the past 10 years. Per a 2004 survey, almost 25 percent of anglers will ice fish in winter months.
This is the first year the park has offered the clinic, and conditions are perfect. Because of the recent cold spells, "Ice is just incredibleall over the state," said Joe Lowendowski, public information officer for Colorado State Parks and Wildlife. On Saturday, the ice was measuring about 10 inches thick, up from 4.5 inches on Dec. 19.
Participants attended a morning indoors session, which covered equipment, tactical tips, ice safety, and the species of fish swimming in Crawford Reservoir, before heading out onto the ice. While the clinic focused on catching black crappie, a small schooling fish typically weighing less than a pound, anglers might also catch northern pike, large mouth bass and channel catfish. Yellow perch, which Rist called "Colorado's most abundant game fish," was common a few years ago, but is a rare catch these days.
The costs of outfitting oneself can range from under $100 to thousands of dollars, said Rist. "How much one wants to spend"depends on how much you love the sport."
There's a lot to consider, including whether or not to invest in a shelter. Rist said that growing up in Minnesota his dad would set up a permanent shelter and they would drive out onto the ice, crank up the heater, and fish in T-shirts regardless of conditions outside the shelter. While Colorado's weather isn't as severe as in areas such as Minnesota (temperatures hovered around 50 degrees Saturday), it can be brutal. They're not practical in Colorado because it's illegal to leave them up overnight, said Rist. Those wanting to brave even the coldest conditions might be interested in either a clam- or tent-style shelter, both relatively lightweight, portable and affordable.
Then there's the challenge of breaking a hole through 10 inches of ice, which can be a real workout, as one of the handful of novice anglers discovered after several minutes of trying to break through the ice. Ice anglers are a friendly group, said Rist, and if asked might drill you a hole. More serious anglers have several auger models and sizes to choose from, and the smaller, 3- to 5-inch models are generally sufficient. "I've seen a 40-inch pike pulled through a 5-inch hole," said Rist. "If you want to get it through it will come through."
Fishing equipment has benefited from technology, including test line. New fluorocarbon lines are almost invisible to fish, and special coatings prevent line from freezing to the guides. A 2-pound line is sufficient for fishing for crappie, although a pike can bite through it.
Rods, stubby versions of their open-water counterparts, will vary in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.
Technologies in depth finders and fish finders have also advanced, and can be a good investment, said Rist, who uses an older Vexilo model.
It's also a good idea to bring something to sit on while jigging. Seats can range from a five-gallon plastic bucket (good for carrying rods and other equipment onto the ice) to padded seats designed for ice fishing.
Rist also covered which baits are available and some baiting techniques; additional equipment, such as an ice scoop to clear the slush out of the holes — something you do NOT want to have to do by hand; and tactics like proper jigging and making the most of a fish finder. "Fish finders are great," said Rist, "but they don't catch a fish for you."
And when you get out on the lake, watch for existing holes. While they are available for anyone to use, they can be hard to spot and easy to sink a foot or leg into.
Joe Lowendowski reminds all anglers that a Colorado fishing license, valid April 1 through March 31 and available online at parks.state.co.us, is required before dipping a line in the water.
Rist said that with the success of this clinic he may offer another one next year, depending on conditions. The park offers lots of fishing-related activities. This spring there will be a contest to net the biggest northern pike, and a fishing contest is scheduled for Feb. 15.
As for whether or not one will be successful, Rist offers this advice: "If you're not catching anything in 10 minutes, change one of three things: depth, lure, or location."
Or just watch the other anglers on the ice. If they're catching fish, maybe they'll let you join them.blog comments powered by Disqus