Nine-year-old Kyle Cannon exclaimed from well into the center of the frozen Green Mountain Reservoir that he'd caught his first "ice fish."
He'd been out a handful of times previously, but never had the fish been biting the way they were Sunday at the lake that spreads out at the feet of the Gore Range. His father, Ed Cannon, woke Kyle before the sun rose in Littleton to load him, the electric auger and their fishing gear into the truck to beat Denver ski traffic to Summit County.
Instead of heading to the slopes, though, the Cannons and their friend, Chris Trujillo, peeled off Interstate 70 at Silverthorne and headed north. They would spend the day in the sunshine, perched on stools that sat next to 10-inch holes in the ice. Tiny fishing poles in hand, they began fishing by about 8 a.m., and Kyle Cannon had his first ice fish by about noon.
"It took courage. And patience," he said, pulling it from a mound of snow nearby. "I could have gone ice skating today. But what I say is, ice skating gives me a sore butt and ice fishing gets me a nice dinner."
He started scraping the snow away from the mound to uncover enough frozen fish to make fish tacos that night as well as bake or smoke some for later.
"They're really good," Ed Cannon said. "They're real pink on the inside. The poor man's salmon."
When you think ice fishing, most think of a mess of shanty-town shelters filled with men bundled in winter gear to withstand the cold. Not so on Sunday, a day where temperatures were well above freezing, the sun blazed bright and there was little to no breeze. Though now wearing a sweatshirt and heavy fleece camouflage pants, Trujillo said he'd been in a T-shirt shortly before noon.
For him, all conditions are suitable as long as he's fishing. Trujillo grew up in Minturn and has been coming to the High Country to ice fish for years. He said he's always had good luck at Green Mountain Reservoir - and caught a 34-inch, 26-pound trophy fish there. Ed Cannon started about five years ago, and only recently began bringing his son along.
"It's good to take kids fishing any time you can" to pass along the passion, Trujillo said.
As he listened and chimed in occasionally, Trujillo's line went taut. Kyle Cannon ran to where he sat and Trujillo handed over the line to let him reel it in. The line extends roughly 50 feet to the bottom of the lake, where lake trout swim, so it took Kyle Cannon some time to drag the fish to the surface. It hardly hit the air before it let go of the glow-in-the-dark rubber squid-like bait and flopped onto the ice. Kyle Cannon maneuvered the squirming fish to the mound, where it tried to swim into the ice as the youngster tossed fresh snow on top.
"I was trying to catch one while you guys were here," Trujillo said, smiling and getting up from his stool. Trujillo likes fishing so much that it's not always about having something scrumptious to celebrate a day out on the ice. Often, he releases his catch in favor of letting fish grow. Currently at Green Mountain Reservoir, though, the lake trout limit is eight fish per fishermen to help the envied stocked kokanee salmon populations thrive.
"All the fish we caught today are worth sitting in traffic on the way home," Ed Cannon said, explaining that the threesome planned to enjoy every last bit of the extended daylight rather than leave at 1 or 2 p.m. to beat traffic.
"It's hard to beat a day out here like this - it's so nice," Ed Cannon said. "This is a good time to have regular conversation, and when you're sitting there by yourself, take the time to think about all your thoughts."
Against the expanse of white, surrounded by nothing but quiet and a faint rumble of cars meandering down Highway 9, Kyle Cannon paused before called over to his father at the next auger hole.
"I'm glad I came today, Dad. Today, the fish are really good," he said.