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Frozen fish sticks

REID WILLIAMSsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Reid WilliamsOne of my favorite ice fishing pictures that never made it to print (and left me even more curious about the sport): Dillon resident Lee Harrison ice fishing near the Snake River inlet on Dillon Reservoir on Dec. 6, 2003.
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When Jack Taylor described what he saw waking up that Saturday morning – the snaking stream of headlights in the pre-dawn darkness, as though the stars twinkling in the frigid ink above had flowed like a river down to the lakeshore – it only confirmed for me that all these people had lost their minds.I could think of no other reason so many people – in reality hundreds – would be up and moving before sunrise, in such a hurry to sit on the ice staring at a hole, waiting and hoping. It’s like the Army meets Santa Claus, I was thinking while watching Taylor, a longtime Heeney resident and civic busy-body known north and south of Green Mountain Reservoir, take down the tent at the Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Ice Fishing Derby. It’s “hurry up and wait for something you can’t see but desperately need to believe in.”

I hadn’t yet been able to answer my own question: What’s the deal with ice fishing?This is where I have to insert a disclaimer: I have never been much of a fisherman. I grew up around lakes and rivers, rods and reels always available, but I never took to it. Might have something to do with the first fish I ever caught (a 9-inch bass) and then had to throw back after my grandfather learned I hadn’t the intestinal fortitude to remove it from the hook by myself.

But I’ve always held in high regard the anglers I’ve observed gracefully casting around Summit County, and as I grew older, my palate grew to appreciate a good fish dinner. This could not help me understand, however, why I saw so many people, in ever-increasing numbers, sitting around little holes in the ice on Dillon Reservoir.”It’s what’s in this cooler,” Brad Probst told me after the Kremmling derby judges had measured and photographed his momentarily third-place Mackinaw. The former Silverthorne resident who had just moved to Kremmling was enjoying a rare day away from work, his girlfriend and their newborn. It wasn’t much of an escape, though, as he admitted to spending most of the morning working on his Palm Pilot.”I invited about a hundred people to come out with me,” he said. “None of them came. That’s OK, though.”

I found even more fugitives out on the ice, and I began to understand that this was not really about competition at all. Even though, as Kremmling Chamber executive director Katrina Wright told me, the top ice fishing prize was $700 and the following place purses were nothing to scoff at, the more than 250 people registered for the event weren’t really in it for the money.Mark Michael, a Denver resident, was sitting in a circle with his stepson and four friends, each bobbing a line up and down in their own hole. They offered me a can of beer, intimating that one shouldn’t be caught ice fishing without it – something I suspected as I homed in on their bellicose laughter and antics as I approached.

It’s about family, too, and it doesn’t seem that gender discrimination is a problem (maybe because everyone looks the same bundled up in long johns and Carhartts). I met Pam Stevenson, who brought her 7-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Bingham, out to learn the rites of ice fishing. It was Bingham’s second crack at the pastime, and she took no convincing, having taken second place at last year’s derby at Wolford Reservoir.Stevenson said she had decades of experience to pass on to her progeny, just as her grandfather had handed it down to her.”Ice fishing isn’t really an advantage – because you’re freezing,” Stevenson said. “But it is a treat. You get out on the ice to right where the fish are.


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