Fishing for a winner

Ice fishing at popular Stagecoach Reservoir attracts throngs of eager anglers

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— Through 2-foot-thick ice and in the murky depths of Stagecoach Reservoir lurks what every ice fisherman hopes to catch: the state's next record-breaking pike.

Although the ice fishing this winter has been slower at Stagecoach Reservoir than in past years, park rangers and anglers are confident that with a little patience and a little luck, the next big fish tale will be told from the shores of Stagecoach Reservoir.

"We basically have two groups out there right now - those fishing for trout and those fishing for a new state-record pike," said Craig Preston, manager of Stagecoach State Park. "There's no doubt in my mind the new state record will come out of Stagecoach this winter."

Tim Bone of Thornton caught a 30-pound, 11-ounce pike in August 2006, breaking the state's previous record catch of 30 pounds, 6 ounces.

On Wednesday, a group of four Front Range anglers eagerly awaited a bite.

"It's been slower than in previous years, but I've caught a couple of rainbows (trout) that weighed about 2 1/2 or 3 pounds," said Tom Steckline of Brighton. "That's Stagecoach for you. It's the size of the fish that matters."

Kris Wahlers, a senior park ranger, said officials stocked the reservoir with about 20,000 rainbow trout in December.

"I'm sure our pike population is enjoying that," he said.

Preston reports seeing between 10 to 12 people on the reservoir during the week and about 100 on weekends.

Steckline said he comes to Stagecoach Reservoir annually to ice fish.

"I love all fishing," he said. "That's why I ice fish here. I have to be fishing all year."

Tom Steckline's brother, Don Steckline of Estes Park, said the group camps at Stagecoach State Park and walks down to the reservoir to drop their lines.

"We're pretty hardcore," he said. "We'll stay out there until the sun goes down. Up early, out late."

Don Steckline's key to a successful fishing trip is the gear.

"Most ice fishing is about having the right gear," he said. "You definitely don't want to be out here with cold feet."

The ice on the reservoir is stable, although some spots have become slushy as a result of sunny days and strong winds.

"It can be disheartening, because when the slush freezes, you end up stepping through it until you hit sold ice," Wahlers said. "It makes you jerk a little bit."

Stagecoach Reservoir never closes, and anglers must make their own determinations as to what is safe, he said.

"We can advise people of ice hazards, but that's for people to decide how safe it is for them," Wahlers said.

Preston said ice anglers should use the buddy system and never venture along onto the ice.

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