This is that fun time of year when northern Colorado/southern Wyoming ice fishermen keep asking one another, “Anyone checked the ice on Boyd? Is there still ice on top of Douglas? How about Hattie? Hey, can you still walk on (and off) Crystal?”
The answer is: “Well, you can hope all you want; but below 6 or 7,000 feet, the ice around here has gotten pretty darned dicey.” Some diehards will just trek higher into the mountains, or get out their fly rods and head for a creek. Or catch a late season clearance on some fancy new floatation bibs, and hope they won’t be needed. Me, I’m thinking it is time for still water anglers to put away their augers and tiny rods, and take advantage of late winter/early spring open water.
This time of year, you really can catch fish in open water - in most parts of the country much more frequently than you can around the Front Range. You Tube and Face Book groups are filled with photos and tall tales from grinning anglers in places like southern Colorado, Florida and Arizona. But even in northern Colorado, we can coax a few fish to the net; it just takes grinding patience, tolerance for being cold, and a willingness to live with (or possibly lie about) the occasional skunk.
Here is one grim truth that took me years to accept after relocating from the Midwest more than three decades ago: Colorado weather is just not a fisherman’s friend. By mid-March or even February in places like Missouri and Oklahoma, warm nights and warmer days typically kick start a new season for crappie, white bass and other warm water fish. Here? Yeah, we get warm afternoons, like the ones that lured some of us back into our float tubes last week. But we also get bitterly cold nights and annoying, disruptive spring snowstorms, like the one of Biblical proportions headed our way this very weekend.
So how does the determined fisherman find success on open water, without waiting for April or May? My advice is, ignore for now all those boisterous Southern fishing shows about prespawn bass and bedding bluegill. Do like me: settle for a gullible bass or two after hours of casting a lipless crank bait or Ned Rig. Or better yet, up your chances by concentrating on trout, in most lakes holdovers stocked in 2020 or earlier. I kind of ignored cold water fish when I first moved West. But eventually even I found, to my delight, that trout stay active much later in the fall than warm water species, and tend to stay that way right through winter, accessible through the ice or in open water during the occasional winter thaw.
I prefer the float tube this time of year, though you can do quite well from shore. And Boyd Lake State Park is set to open for boating at 8 a.m. Monday, March 15. Other large northern lakes remain mostly closed to boating until April. But if you can find an open spot to launch, you can launch on most smaller waters. Good luck, and try to stay warm out there. I know some of you will keep trying to find safe ice until hell freezes over. Let us know how you do.