A beginner’s guide to ice fishing in Summit County
Here's what to know before you head out on the ice
If you’ve driven on the Interstate 70 mountain corridor during the winter months, chances are you passed through Summit County and saw a few pop-up tents and possibly even a truck resting on a frozen Dillon Reservoir.
While the lake is a popular spot in the summer to go boating and kayaking, it’s also a perfect spot to pitch a tent and grab your fishing pole. But like all winter recreation, you need some basic knowledge before you head out and try ice fishing yourself.
Here are some tips from local experts to make your first ice fishing trip a reeling success.
Why it’s worth trying out
Randy Ford, owner of Alpine Fishing Adventures in Dillon, said there’s usually at least one person in a group who feels skeptical about trying out ice fishing. To them, the sport is synonymous with standing or sitting still while shivering in the cold as they wait for a bite at the end of their lure.
But Ford said that’s not the way the experience has to go. Heated, portable tents protect fishermen from the elements and keep people warm.
In reality, some of the most common feedback Ford gets from customers is about the scenery that inevitably comes with ice fishing.
“The coolest thing about ice fishing is just the experience of being in the environment alone for a lot of these people,” Ford said of his customers. “Before we even drill a hole, I get great feedback from our customers on what a neat thing it is just be here, just to be on the frozen water, in that environment — it’s something just cool and neat. There’s all kinds of different sights and sounds that you can experience while on the ice that’s a lot different than any other fishing.”
Scott Boettcher, owner of Big Ed’s Fishing Ventures in Dillon, agrees wholeheartedly.
“Sometimes you just need a day off, and it’s a great way to be outside and not be on TV or sitting around on your tablet or cell phone,” he said. “It’s nice to be out in nature and it can be really casual. You can pull up, get yourself set up and fish for a couple hours and when you’ve had enough, you can wrap it up and be home in 10 minutes.”
How to be safe
So how do you actually know that the ice is safe enough to be on? Typically, Summit County’s ice fishing season begins at some point in November and wraps up early April.
To test the thickness, Ford, Boettcher and George Peebles, owner of Silver Flask Fishing, all recommended using the spud bar technique. Essentially, this means taking an oversized chisel-like tool to smack on the ice. If the ice is a certain thickness, it won’t puncture through and thus means it’s safe to walk on. All three experts say at least 4 inches of ice is considered safe, especially for beginners.
Once the ice is determined to be safe, the experts recommended using an auger or some kind of drill to dig a hole in the ice. From there, a shovel or scoop is needed to remove the slush. After that, a person is ready to fish.
Peebles also suggests wearing an ice pick around your neck for added safety. If you were to fall through the ice, this device could be used to help you pull yourself out of the water.
What you need before you head out
To make ice fishing more enjoyable, Ford said you can bring comforts like a heated tent, chairs and a portable grill. He also recommends fishers bring along some kind of sonar device that can help them determine where to set up for the day.
Peebles suggests dressing as warm as possible, similar to how you would if you were skiing or snowboarding.
Over the last decade or so, Ford noted that the sport has taken off and that many companies are making gear for a wider demographic. Before, the most common bibs were available exclusively to men but now gear can be found for women and children, too.
“That’s one of the coolest things that I see is how, as an activity and a sport, it’s really grown over the last five to 10 years,” Ford said. “It’s gained a lot in popularity.”
- Kokanee salmon
- Rainbow trout
- Brown trout
- Arctic char
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