Ice fishing thrives at Dillon Reservoir as CPW stocks rainbow trout in the fall |

Ice fishing thrives at Dillon Reservoir as CPW stocks rainbow trout in the fall

Each year, the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery dumps between 330,000 and 360,000 rainbow trout into the Dillon Reservoir, many of which are dumped in the fall and make for profitable ice fishing.
Courtesy photo Alpine Fishing Adventures

DILLON — This time of year at the Dillon Reservoir, it’s rare to see the frozen lake without an ice fishing tent or two. As far as business goes for angler companies, local fishing guide businesses Alpine Fishing Adventures and Big Ed’s Fishing Ventures say that their ice fishing business is comparable to that in the spring. 

“In the wintertime we find the bite tends to be more consistent,” said Randy Ford, owner of Alpine Fishing Adventures.

While springtime runoff flows are the best time to catch fish, Ford said, he has lots of families and tourists who want to try their hand at ice fishing. 

“Most of our customers have never done it before,” he said. “It’s been pretty busy for us every year. We keep getting busier because we’ve been taking advantage that Dillon itself is becoming more of a fishery. As the fishing’s gotten better, we’ve brought in repeat customers.”

Andrew Hoofman, manager at Big Ed’s Fishing Ventures, said December is typically when ice fishing season starts. 

“We want it thick enough to where everyone’s comfortable. Eight inches is great,” he said. 

Ford said he uses a spud bar to test the ice earlier in the season, but by this point in February, the ice is almost 2 feet thick. However, while there are populations of arctic char in the reservoir due to an effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife several years ago, CPW also releases 330,000 to 360,000 rainbow trout into the reservoir each year.

“Back in 2007 to 2014, Colorado Parks and Wildlife went through an effort to stock these arctic char so now we’re seeing the results of some natural reproduction. That opportunity has been something that 10 years ago wasn’t really that much of an option but now they’re growing and we’ve got fish of catchable size. We’re able to work with the CPW and request right before the ice comes on that they stock us with rainbow trout,” Ford said.

Ford added that it’s much more likely that anglers will catch fish in the reservoir nowadays due to the efforts by CPW. Jon Ewert, CPW aquatic biologist for Grand County and Summit County, is in charge of determining how many fish get stocked in which local bodies of water. He explained that during the spring and summer months, there’s a huge demand on the fish hatchery system for fish in recreational areas.

“If we want all the fish at one time per year, there’s a scheduling jam that happens,” Ewert said. “Hatcheries have fish in the fall but the demand goes way down. There’s less people asking for the fish.”

The Dillon Reservoir presents a unique situation where fish can be introduced successfully in the fall. Ewert said that in the reservoir, there is a nonnative species of small, freshwater shrimp called mysis shrimp. In the summer, Ewert explained that the lake is stratified, having different layers of temperatures, and the shrimp stay below about 30 feet. But in the fall, the lake de-stratifies and the shrimp can go anywhere in the lake. 

“So, if you imagine stocking trout in the summer, they don’t know the shrimp are there. In the fall, the rainbows can get onto them as a food item immediately. If we stock in the fall, the shrimp are available to the fish and they go into the winter in pretty good condition,” Ewert said. “So it’s a really great boost for ice fishing season. As a bonus, some of them will survive until the next spring.”

Ewert said this process of fall stocking started about five years ago and that they release about two-thirds of the fish allocated to the reservoir in the fall and the remaining third in the spring. Trout that are put into the Dillon Reservoir come from the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery. Mark Jimerson, assistant manager at the hatchery, said it receives rainbow trout eggs from local units like the Glenwood Springs Fish Hatchery as well as out-of-state units in Washington or Montana. 

Jimerson explained that there are 18 fish hatcheries throughout the state and the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery prioritizes recreation and restoration, and that without introducing fish to local water sources, there would be very little fishing in many of the reservoirs. Jimerson said they bring trout to Dillon mostly for recreation, but some fish are food for other fish and some reproduce to increase the population. He also pointed out that the hatcheries help bring in $2 billion per year to Colorado’s economy by bringing fish to the reservoirs. 

“We raise mostly rainbows. They grow very well, they’re easy to raise, especially getting them up to 10 inches,” Jimerson said, which is considered a catchable trout. “Rainbows do the best in a hatchery setting.”

Jimerson said that both catchable fish and subcatchable fish, which are between 3 and 5 inches, are introduced into the Dillon reservoir. 

With the growing population of arctic chard, the continually supplied rainbow trout and populations of brown trout and kokanee salmon, Scott Boettcher, owner of Big Ed’s Fishing Ventures, said that while summer is still their busiest season, the interest in ice fishing is growing.

“Ice fishing grows year over year a lot. More and more people are beginning to be interested,” Boettcher said. “It’s a great opportunity to get out in the outdoors and try something new.”

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