Ready for the ice-in: With snow starting to fall, a preview of select Summit County ice fishing spots
From packing heavy-duty gear and taking your snowmobile out atop a remote reservoir, to fishing on a crowded inlet, to lighter jigging on a smaller pond, Summit County has several different ice fishing options come winter.
With the snow now starting to fall, it’s not too early to get ready for the ice-top angling season.
To the north, Green Mountain Reservoir is the best spot for those experienced ice fishermen who are willing to take their snowmobile out and fish for Master-sized lake trout, using sonar to dial-in down deep.
Near Lake Dillon, the Snake River inlet is known as one of the best places to ice fish early in the state’s season, when the lake’s shallow waters freeze while kokanee salmon spawn.
Through the rest of the county, Officer’s Gulch near Copper Mountain, Lake Dillon proper and the high alpine water bodies of the Gore Range are a sample of more ice fishing options, depending on one’s skill level and desire for adventure.
Randy Ford of Alpine Fishing Adventures in Frisco shares his wisdom gleaned from many a frigid winter hour spent at these spots throughout the county:
Green Mountain Reservoir
Considering it’s been four years since Colorado Parks & Wildlife has stocked this man-made water body up near Heeney with any rainbow trout or kokanee salmon, the best ice fishing here is for lake trout.
Once Green Mountain Reservoir safely ices in, usually around the new year, an angler can expect to catch a lake trout or two as the population prey on the copious sucker fish found in the lake.
Ford described the lake trout ice fishing at Green Mountain Reservoir as good-to-excellent, with smaller fish falling in the 14- to 16-inch range. With the safe ice usually lasting until around the first week of April, Ford said it’s not out of the question for an astute angler to reel in a “lunker” in the 32-inch-and-above Master-sized range. Ford has personally caught lake trout bigger than 40 inches at the reservoir.
“That’s one of the things we as anglers love about lake trout fishing,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You might latch into something and then ‘zing!’”
Though there are currently no bag limits on lake trout at the reservoir, Ford advocated for anglers to release any catch longer than 20 inches, considering the water body’s recent struggles in maintaining its kokanee salmon and rainbow trout populations.
Ford said plastic and metal jigs can work well at Green Mountain, with most regular anglers using some form of sucker meat. That said, Ford stressed the importance of using sonar and fish-finding technology to dial in your fishing game as deep as 120 feet. As for your line, Ford said anything from an 8- to 12-pound test will work along with a shorter, more sensitive rod that has the backbone to set the hook and handle a larger fish.
Snake River inlet
Going south on Highway 9 from Heeney, though there is the possibility of ice fishing at North Pond in Silverthorne, Ford recommended the Snake River inlet as a logical next step down from the heavy-duty angling on Green Mountain.
One of the first fisheries in the state to have road-accessible safe ice each year, the annual kokanee salmon run in late November draws big crowds from around Thanksgiving through the first half of December. It’s not uncommon to see tons of huts at this feeder location to Lake Dillon lined with one angler after another jigging the inlet.
Thousands of kokanees stack up during this time of year, trying to spawn. As opposed to Green Mountain’s ice fishing, which is replete with anglers accessing via snowmobile, the Snake River inlet is easy walk-on access.
In this shallow water that only goes about 19 feet deep, Ford recommended using any kind of bright bait.
“Those salmon are in there and you are just going to irritate them, because they are trying to spawn,” he said. “It’s relatively simple: find something bright and flashy, move it off the bottom, and wait for a real heavy strike. Because when you catch these salmon, you are catching them on a reactive type, irritative, instinctive bite.”
On the Snake River, Ford said you can go down to 6-pound tests. Overall lighter — though not “noodly” — rods and lighter gear work well here for the kind of fast-action angling that provides sensitivity.
“You wait for a salmon to just come smash it,” Ford said.
Located off of Interstate 70 halfway between Frisco and Copper Mountain, Ford said Officer’s Gulch’s small pond element provides an opportunity to catch brook and tiger trout with even lighter gear.
Cutthroats are also catchable in this small water body, at which Ford said you’d be best to use smaller tungsten jigs and 2-4 pound tests for ultra-light ice fishing.
Aside from those three spots, ice fishing out on Lake Dillon proper is not as ideal, though doable. Of recent, ice fishing for good-sized arctic char is becoming more and more popular on Lake Dillon. To do so, trudging through slush atop snowshoes and drilling through a foot or more of ice on Lake Dillon is not uncommon. That said, once you’re comfortably out there, the fishing setting at the heart of the county proves fun for the whole family with your toboggans in tow.
“But you’re going to want to eat your Wheaties,” Ford said.
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