I cannot recall an ice fishing season where the lakes were capped so quickly along the frontrange. Combine that with near record high temps this week and I've been scratching my head where to go now that I hung up the elk rifle for the year. Likely the "safest" choice until we get another cold snap is the Walden area.
Like many North Park residents, Bill Willcox celebrated Thanksgiving weekend on the ice. According to Bill, owner and operator of Lake John Resort, “The ice fishing season and the Thanksgiving holiday typically go hand-in-hand in North Park, and this year was no exception”. The original cold snap has capped Lake John with roughly 5 inches of ice officially reining in the second season of angling - ice fishing.
Ice fishing is angling in its simplest fashion – drill a hole, bait a hook, drop the line and wait. To those who have never tried it, ice fishing is sometimes looked upon as an oddity, but for others, ice fishing is the best kind of fishing and it’s hard to argue the popularity of this sport with an estimated 250,000 Colorado anglers participating each winter.
Angling success at Lake John this winter is of particular interest for Kurt Davies, the CPW aquatic biologist assigned to manage the fishery, as not a single fish inhabited this notable North Park destination about 2 ½ years ago. Davies states, “When the white sucker population exceeded 50% of the total fish biomass in Lake John, angling success plummeted and the decision was made to eliminate all fish and start over”.
Reclaiming a lake using an organic chemical called rotenone is a fish biologist’s last option when undesirable fish out compete and over-populate a particular water. Fortunately, in the case of Lake John, anglers are now reaping the benefits of the clean slate in full fashion. Following the stocking of more than 850,000 rainbow and cutbow trout averaging 4 inches since the 2011 reclamation, it is not surprising that Willcox reported this week that anglers are having no trouble catching a limit of trout: “A four fish limit of 16 to 17 inch fish doesn’t take long, and you’ll have fun releasing several of the smaller ones getting there. Any small jig with some kind of meat will do, with most cold footers using a meal or wax worm, or a piece of crawler”.
Equally important as to what anglers are catching is what anglers are not catching. Davies noted, “Not a single sucker has been taken by an angler nor caught in a gill net, as a result of the lowered competition for food items trout are packing on length and weight at an incredible fashion”.
Along the Front Range, the ice fishing season has also begun. Popular local waters near Fort Collins that accommodate ice fishing include City Park Pond, Douglas Reservoir, Boyd Lake, and Lon Hagler Reservoir, all of which have been stocked with a heavy dosage of catchable-sized rainbow trout in the past few weeks.
Unfortunately the flooding has closed St. Vrain State Park and The Big Thompson SWA so anglers might be forced to try something new. Personally I am going to give Lonetree a run for its money as the fall gillnets produced a substancial number of crappie and walleye. If I could only find the fish....
Another option is the Poudre River from LaPorte to Greeley. The flood flushed roughly 60,000 ten-inch rainbows into the river while the trout that remained in the raceways were stocked in Lon Hagler, Boyd, Douglas, and Wellington #4 to name a few.
When it comes to ice safety, steer clear of dark spots or places where the snow looks discolored. Some other good rules to follow include not fishing alone, telling someone where you are going and when you expect to return, testing the ice with a spud bar or shovel, and taking the appropriate emergency items such as a lifejacket, cell phone, and ice picks especially as we enter this hot and cold cycle.
For many people, fishing is relaxing wonderful way to spend the day. Don’t let winter deter you from a great day spent on the water, or ice, of Colorado!