Steamboat Springs When Chad Kurtenbach first glimpsed the giant eye staring back at him through a hole in the ice, it reminded him of a cinematic lizard.
"I could see the eye looking at me," Kurtenbach said. "It reminded me of that scene from Godzilla. It was kind of like that. I knew right away that it was bigger than 20 pounds."
The evil eye on the other end of Kurtenbach's fishing line belonged to a northern pike of record proportions. After an uneventful fight, he had to squeeze the 30-pound northern through his ice fishing hole. The fish was landed in the Stagecoach Reservoir near Oak Creek.
Kurtenbach and a friend weighed the monster fish on an unofficial scale before releasing it back through a bigger hole in the ice. They put it at 30 pounds, 14 ounces, which would surpass the record pike of 30 pounds 6 ounces pulled out of Williams Fork Reservoir in 1996.
Kurtenbach, a 12-year veteran of the Yampa Ranger District of the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest, said he will be content with a fiberglass replica of his trophy fish.
"I'm all about pike," Kurtenbach said. "A lot of people in this area dis pike big time. But there's a lot of people like me."
Actually, Kurtenbach balances his pike angling with trout fishing when he fishes at Stagecoach. He says that's because he typically goes a long time between strikes from toothy pike.
"It's ridiculously slow," Kurtenbach said. "I just sit and wait. They just don't bite in that lake."
Nice try, Chad.
So, Kurtenbach rigs one tip-up with sucker meat to attract pike, and rigs his other tip-up for trout, which provide more frequent action. There are plenty of 14-inch trout in the lake because fisheries biologist Kevin Rogers has been stocking Stagecoach with mature trout that won't fall prey to the smaller pike in the lake.
In his effort to starve the "hammer handles," Rogers acknowledges that the relatively few big pike in the impoundment are feasting on full-grown trout, when they can catch them.
The pike that Kurtenbach brought through the ice by hand line was a female full of eggs.
When Kurtenbach returns for spring fishing, he'll throw small crankbaits intended to remain at the surface when he's shore fishing. In that way, he'll keep his lure out of the sagebrush that lurks beneath the shallows. Anglers who venture into the middle of the lake in a boat will want to choose baits that are designed to sink.
"I've never caught a big pike in summer," Kurtenbach said.
Just the same, Godzilla is lurking in the cold, deep waters of Stagecoach Reservoir.