Frozen fun: George Peebles, Summit County 4-H help introduce local youth to ice fishing
During his final time out this winter leading Summit County’s 4-H Ice Fishing Trips, George Peebles experienced a moment that spoke perfectly to the experience of ice fishing with kids.
In a county where winter sporting options such as snowboarding and freeskiing are abundant for local and transient children alike, ice fishing doesn’t necessarily rise to the top of the list of sports for most kids to try. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a demand from the youth of the local community. That’s what Peebles has discovered during the past two winters, leading 35 kids annually on ice fishing trips.
Each time out on the hut, Peebles said the kids get the chance to let their guards down and catch up with each other, chatting about such things as what games they’ve recently played and what 4-H programs they are enjoying. During the last trip of the season out at a secret spot near the Dillon Marina, before the fishing could even get started, one of the five local kids spoke up.
“‘I would love to catch an Arctic char,’” one of the kids said to Peebles, speaking of the rare fish found only in select spots here in the lower 48 states.
“I was like, ‘OK, bud. Today could be your day,’” Peebles said. “We’re fishing. And the second I dropped it down the hole and handed him the rod and he started jigging, he pulled a char in and was just ecstatic. I turned around, and another kid said, ‘Well, I want a brown trout.’ I said, ‘Again, guys, we’re fishing. So you never know what could happen. But I do have a feeling this hole right here and at this depth can catch a brown trout. So keep jigging your rod.’”
Peebles said that no sooner than three minutes later, the child pulled out a monster brown trout. It’s moments like these that affirm to Peebles, the owner of Silver Flask Fishing in Dillon, the importance of a youth ice fishing program like the one he leads for 4-H, which is put on by the county in conjunction with Colorado State University.
“Just to see the activeness of these children and how excited they are to fish with me and take the knowledge I’ve given them,” Peebles said. “The species of fish, how to fish, techniques, why we fish and conserve the fish the way we do — it’s all just amazing.”
On a few Saturdays this winter, Peebles led 4-H’s three-hour ice fishing excursions on Lake Dillon, providing 4-H members with gear and instruction before fishing for Arctic char, brown trout, rainbow trout and kokanee salmon.
Whatever group is with him in his hut, Peebles reminds the children that though they may not catch a fish on cue, that patient energy and focusing on the task at hand is what sets ice fishing apart from so many other sports.
“And to see that excitement is amazing,” he said.
Peebles began the program a couple of years back when he reached out to the county’s 4-H Club. Looking for a leader for fishing, 4-H brought him aboard and he began with fly fishing. Come the first winter, three 4-H groups went out on locations like the Frisco and Dillon marinas and the Snake River Inlet with Peebles.
“I knew there was a meter out there reading red, ‘Hey, we want to fish,’ from the community and the children,” Peebles said. “And I just went ahead and made that happen. And the second they went onto the ice, they were in awe. They couldn’t believe the hut was heated, how everything was set up. I allowed them to drill holes with my aid, and they just really loved it.”
Leading the 4-H groups, Peebles said his focus is always on teaching the young kids the proper technique and conservation elements of fishing. Often, these kids are too young to attempt winter backcountry sports as, say, snowmobiling. With that, ice fishing can provide quite the adventure for these youngsters. Heck, Peebles said during one trip a young fisherman was just 11 months old. Strapped to their mother inside the hut, Peebles asked the mother if he could share the ice fishing line with the little one. After she obliged, Peebles said the baby, who couldn’t yet talk, instinctively pulled up the line.
“There is just something magical about ice fishing, and fishing in general,” Peebles said. “But there is something that becomes — it’s a new experience for these kids. For the most part, all of these kids who have lived up here in the county, they’ve seen the frozen lake before, and they may have seen a hut or two of people out there fishing. That said, this is something new to them, something that was right in front of their eyes the whole time.”
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