Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ice Fishing... with Fly Gear?!?!

It's officially Winter. The flowing, bubbling mountain streams look to have been frozen in time and then coated in a sugary snow. The once plunging waterfalls now stick to the hillsides paralyzed in airy, crystallized ice, patiently waiting for Spring so they can get back to their business of rushing.

The trout reside deep within this ice cage, grouped together in the deepest pools where the water won't freeze solid in their motionless, seemingly hypnotized state.

This state of deep freeze is not the case, however, in every stream across Colorado. There are special exceptions in tailwaters. Tailwaters are streams in which their water is derived from the outflow of dams. While there may be a completely frozen lid on the water within the dam, the water being released below is pulled from the bottom of the reservoir allowing the streams to remain free from ice through even the coldest of weather. In some premier tailwaters the water is silt free, stable in temperature year round, and is full of nutritious food for the fish resulting in exceptional fisheries. The DOW is aware of this and has made many tailwaters C&R only for stretches directly below the dams boosting the quality of fishing that much more by allowing fish to grow large.

At the beginning of the Winter season when most freestone streams (streams in which a majority of its water is derived from rainfall and glacial runoff) are frozen, yet Colorado sun is still providing 60 degree days, the tailwaters get absolutely slammed with anglers. People will literally wait in line to fish holes (so I hear).

I refuse to fish in such crowded conditions. This limbo of changing seasons has contributed to my lack of posting on this here blog as a result of my lack of actual fishing. I will start hitting the tailwaters once it gets cold enough to turn away the teeming masses of anglers, but until then...

Ice on the Fly

This brings us to ice fishing. Last year I dismissed the activity because, after all, it's sitting on a bucket with spin gear... and I'm a fly fisherman dammit! However, I dismissed it not without an air of curiosity due to the pictures of mammoth fish people pull through the ice.

This year as the hard water season approached my fly fishing associate,Vaughn, kept inserting little tidbits in my ear such as,

"You've fished in a belly boat right?"


"It's the same thing, except you're on ice instead of in a raft."

"Well, when you put it like that..."

Any protest I made was quickly quelled with impenetrable logic that my fish deprived mind eagerly justified, and secretly relished in. He knew what I needed to hear.

He even had all the necessary gear I lacked - extra short rods (or are they poles? ...don't ask don't tell) and an extra ice hut. He had years and years of experience of where to go, what to use, and the big fish, oh the big fish.


In addition, Matt, my close friend and roommate of 3 years from college was flying out from VA to visit and I wanted to take him on some sort of Colorado expedition. Ice fishing fit the bill. It all fell neatly into place.

The Trip

2:30 A.M. departure, it was snowing. Hard. Matt, my brother and I met up with Vaughn and Swizz and started trekking. During the drive out the snow whited out the vast views of mountains in the distance and any potential of a sunrise. Instead, it gave us a fuzzy, glowing calmness and offered closer range, peaceful landscapes.

We got to the lake, drug our gear out to the ice and set up shop.

Drill Baby Drill!

View from inside the hut.

The hut blocks out all outside light and the result is a lime green glowing hole to fish through. You can see the bottom of the lake, your fly, and trout swimming up to inspect your offering. We would yell to each other if we saw one swim by in someone else's direction.

After just a few minutes of sitting in there with our flies in the water Matt calmly says,

"Something... just... happened."

I look over and he's hand lining with a confused look on his face.

"Grab your rod!" Nick and I exclaim.

He picks of the stick and lands his first ever trout like a natural!

The action slowed toward the afternoon, but all five of us managed to land fish during the morning. I didn't even know it at the time, but Matt was taking awesome videos with his point and shoot camera.

Cookie Cutter Bow

Nick Botches One at the Hole

Toward the end of the day the sky broke for a little while and we got some nice views during the drive home.

Then more snow.

Just to show the potential for ice fishing, Vaughn caught this spawned up 25 in. cutbow 2 weeks after our trip!

Our friend Kevin, who is a talented taxidermist, will be mounting it and entering it in the world taxidermy championships in a few months. Some of his previous work can be seen here at