Fishing attracts certain types of people; those who fish for sport, those who fish for food and those who do a little bit of both.
Although in the last several years I have grown from an aspiring fisherman into a guy who on most days can catch fish, I’ve never really cared for their taste. However, being a catch-and-release fisherman doesn’t mean I haven’t developed a deep appreciation for the sweet stench of trout, salmon, bass, crappie and perch.
It’s a smell that reminds me of every fish landed and safely released. It’s a smell of satisfaction.
Last week, I basked in that glorious stink after a morning of ice fishing on Lake Dillon with Randy Ford, a part-time guide with Big Ed’s Fishing Ventures. It was my first experience with what is arguably the least common form of fishing.
I met Ford and three clients from the east coast shortly before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25 on Lake Dillon near Summit Cove. With more than 30 years of fishing experience in Colorado, Ford is a man who knows his water and he had already pitched a shelter and drilled several holes at the inlet of the Snake River.
After a short tutorial about the finer points of ice fishing, we manned our holes and experimented with a variety of baits and lures, including spoons, white jig heads outfitted with brightly colored tubes and the occasional salmon egg. We employed the strategy of vertical jigging, dropping our lines into the frozen water and bouncing our bait off the bottom of the riverbed in hopes of inducing a strike.
I can’t say it was the most action-filled day in my fishing career, but it certainly wasn’t the slowest. After a little more than two hours of persistent jigging, we collectively landed two rainbow trout, two kokanee salmon and two Arctic char.
In addition to the breathtaking views of the Tenmile Range, Ford said the diversity of the fishery is one of Lake Dillon’s greatest attractions. Although there are numerous reservoirs throughout the country that provide anglers with the opportunity to fish for kokanee salmon, Lake Dillon is one of the few — and possibly the only reservoir in the state —that features a naturally reproducing population.
Then there’s highly elusive and widely prized Arctic char, which can be found only at one other reservoir in the lower 48 states.
Arctic char were first introduced in 1990 to control Lake Dillon’s over population of Mysis shrimp. Arctic char, a species of trout, tend to inhabit the coldest, darkest depths of the lake, which also serves as prime habitat for Mysis shrimp, a staple of the Arctic char’s diet.
However, when the temperatures drop and the ice begins to form the Mysis migrate to shallower water, Ford said. The Arctic char follow, making the ice fishing season the best opportunity for anglers to land the imported species.
“I’m seeing this year, for the first time ever, that more char are being caught in shallower water,” Ford said. “Only a handful of anglers are catching them, but it’s cool to see the angling opportunities for Arctic char are getting better.”
In addition to spending most of the year at depths beyond the reach of the typical angler, Ford said Arctic char are highly prized because they are so hard to catch, even under the most promising conditions. Because they have such small mouths, they have to be pursued with equally small bait.
“I relate it to golf in the sense that you are trying to take a small object and knock it into a small target, which is a hard thing to do,” Ford said. “As with fishing, sometimes in golf you can get lucky and I’ve always said being lucky is just as satisfying as being good.”
It can be argued that the group I fished with last week benefited from some first-timer luck, considering we landed two Arctic char. One was pushing 15 inches in length, which Ford said was on the larger side for Lake Dillon’s population.
However, the sport is relatively inexpensive and easy to learn. It’s potential appeal to a wide range of people is what motivated Nate Crawford, owner of Big Ed’s Fishing Ventures, to add this year ice fishing to his collection of guided services. In the summer, Big Ed’s also offers guided fly-fishing trips on the Blue River and charter fishing on Lake Dillon.
“We operate under the condition of providing family-friendly fishing adventures,” Crawford said. “We cater to everyone from the novice to avid anglers alike and we strive to make fishing feasible for everyone, especially families with young children.
“It’s the perfect activity for people looking to rest their legs after a couple of days skiing or people who enjoy the satisfaction of catching their own dinner.”
Ford, who said he never gets tired of seeing the excitement of a client’s first catch, dovetailed off of Crawford’s comments, saying people of all ages can apply the easy-to-learn techniques of ice fishing.
“All it takes is a few minutes of instruction and boom, you’re into fish,” Ford said. “No one is ever going to reach the pinnacle of skiing in just one day, but you could find yourself reeling in that big, hog-daddy of a fish your first time on the ice. I’ve seen it happen and there’s always that chance of having a memorable day of fishing.”
For more information about ice fishing and summer guided trips offered by Big Ed’s Fishing Ventures, call 389-1720 or visit www.bigedsfishing.com.