Fly fishing rod

Salomone: The ice has arrived

Fishermen pull strong, healthy trout through the ice.
Scott Cramer / Courtesy photo

Winter has descended on Vail with heavy snow covering everything. The skiing conditions have reached epic proportions. The arrival of the main winter is here. In addition to the pleasures of winter, fishermen skated on the thickening ice of ponds, lakes and reservoirs, drilling holes and pulling strong, healthy trout through the ice. Ladies and gentlemen, ice fishing season has arrived.

Whether anglers target small ponds of water covered with a safe layer of ice or larger bodies of water like alpine lakes and high mountain reservoirs, the opportunities for ice fishing are plentiful. However, safety is of the utmost concern. Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends four inches thick to support an individual. Personally, I prefer the extra safety that comes with six inches of ice, especially when venturing out into larger bodies of water.

Vail Valley Anglers guide Jim Mallos drills a hole for ice fishing.
Scott Cramer / Courtesy photo

Approaches to angling through the ice cover a variety of styles. Flashy lures, tiny jigs, and a real bite of bait come in different layouts to boost their productivity. Anglers who roam the frozen surface have a little bit of everything to try. Experimentation is often necessary to determine a productive approach.

Lures for ice fishing are on a smaller scale. Consider choosing a bite-sized lure, a lure that the trout can easily hold in its mouth. Small spoons like Kastmasters and Dare-devils have a few features that enhance their presentation. Weight and flash are two characteristics of the teaspoons. The fishermen juggle, lift and drop, the teaspoons luring the trout towards imitation of the dying minnow.

The stencils come with and without ‘dress-up’ meaning that some stencils have feathers or hair attached while others are simple lead heads with an exposed bare hook. Undressed jig heads come in a variety of shapes and styles with bright colors and painted eyes. Dressed jigs have light feathers or soft hair, both materials breathe water with life when moved or sitting stationary.

Fly fishermen have boxes full of nymphs which have cross appeal and can be effectively fished under ice. Representations of small larvae of midges and aquatic scuds work incredibly well for anglers. The scuds set up near the bottom will attract the feeding trout. Olive green or bright orange squirrel flies are effective. The orange colored shields are dead shields, they change color after their death.

Other flies that work well are the gentle, spiky nymphs, small streamers, or attractive patterns like princes nymphs or flashback pheasant tail nymphs. Small brown or black streamers represent leeches moving through the water column with seductive swimming action. Trout that eat a leech in winter pick up the fly with a little more vigor.

The last approach is to bait. Ice anglers have a wide variety of choices when it comes to tempting trout under the ice: salmon roe, powerful bait of different varieties, and the ever popular earthworm. Nothing like the squirming of a red wiggler or a large chunk of thick nocturnal caterpillar to secure a tug of a trout. Mealworms are another super effective ice fishing that trout are crazy about.

Anglers can sit on an open hole in the ice with a short ice fishing rod while working a spoon with a quick jigging action. Others may choose an ice fishing tent that is weather resistant, which also improves the fisherman’s vision in the water. And some anglers will use complex setups with tilts that help place the hook over an unattended hole. Using multiple rods to cover two ice holes at a time is a popular approach. A rod in a rod holder bouncing quickly off a hole in the ice fifteen feet away can create some pretty exciting scrambles.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends four inches thick to support an ice fisherman.
Scott Cramer / Courtesy photo

Ice fishing is a fantastic way for a family to spend a wonderful day in Colorado. The ideal conditions for ice fishing have arrived. The safety of thick ice and the addition of hungry trout combine to produce exciting early winter ice fishing adventures. Whether anglers choose lures, small flies, or bait, the variety of opportunities for success makes ice fishing a productive and enjoyable Colorado experience. Vail Valley Anglers offers professional ice fishing guides to lead you and your family to an experience like no other, creating memories in the middle of your ski trip that won’t fade.

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