Eric Bonnett holds up his catch during a day of ice fishing at the Stagecoach Reservoir.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Eric Bonnett holds up his catch during a day of ice fishing at the Stagecoach Reservoir.

Ice fishing a lazy way to pass a winter day

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Past Event

Ice fishing tournament

  • Saturday, March 10, 2012, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Stagecoach State Park, Stagecoach, CO
  • All ages / Free - $35

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Eric Bonnett reels in a trout as Randy Brooks, center, and Steamboat Great Outdoors owner Kent Baucke wait to see what comes out of the hole in the Stagecoach Reservoir ice. Baucke began guiding ice fishing trips on the Routt County lake this winter.

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He wasn’t big, and he didn’t have a lot of fight. He made dinner, though.

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John Hanick, left, and Dean Leahy rip across Lake Granby on snowmobiles last week.

— Fishing by nature is low key, but even by fishing standards, ice fishing is laid back.

A cold wind-accompanied snow Friday added to the already slushy surface of the nearly 4 feet of snow and ice that blanketed Stagecoach Reservoir in South Routt County.

Out on that ice, in that slush, Randy Brooks, from Springfield, Va., and Eric Bonnett, of Bradenton, Fla., pulled their jackets tight but kept one eye ever present on the holes in the ice and the rods that sprouted from them. The survivors of a six-pack of Coors Light kept cool in a snow bank, and between the occasional sharp jerks that preceded reeling in a fat trout, the pair relaxed.

“Ice fishing is just low stress,” said Kent Baucke, who was guiding the trip for his company, Steamboat Great Outdoors. “It’s just a good time, and it’s even great for families. You don’t really have to worry about children falling in the ice. The holes aren’t big. You dress warm if it’s cold or get inside huts and tents with heaters, and you spend your time with people visiting and having a good time.”

1st-hand experience

I found out just how low stress a day on the ice could be last week while visiting friends near Grand Lake and staying in their cabin that overlooked Lake Granby.

My guide was John Hanick, the most mountain-y mountain man I know. Although he lacks the epic skiing stories and giant beard some may associate with a true high-altitude savant, he more than makes up for it with a do-it-yourself attitude that’s hard to match.

He thrives on hunting the forests near his home. If the Mayans prove correct, it’d be hard to imagine a better neighbor than Hanick and his wife, Diane — a fact my friends who have a cabin next door are well aware of.

Last week, we all picked his brain about ice fishing, and atop a trio of his snowmobiles, we flew across the highway and out onto Lake Granby.

While I’d never actually gone ice fishing myself, I’d been close enough before to know the real sport bears little in common with the falling-through escapes of TV sitcoms or “Grumpy Old Men.”

On a bright and sunny day with the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park as our backdrop, we drilled holes and dropped in, hoping for the best.

Prime time

The fishing at Stagecoach, by all accounts, is good.

“It’s been great,” said Kimi Lehman, an administrative assistant at Stagecoach State Park. “All the fishing reports are pretty decent, and some people are catching larger trout.”

A generally mild winter hasn’t meant weak ice. In fact, the lack of snow until recent weeks let it set thick, and Lehman said it’s now about 2 feet thick and topped by an insulating blanket of 2 feet of snow.

It’s been a quiet winter in terms of recreating at the reservoir, she said. Grooming began on the snowshoe and cross-country skiing trails a few weeks ago, and the trails barely have been touched.

The fishing, though, has been great all season.

She said ideally, people should keep away from the shore, and that they’ve been fishing about 20 feet deep. On Friday, Baucke had his team’s lines set right at the bottom, and in just a half day, they had a collection of frozen fish stacked next to the beers.

“When the snow on the mountain wasn’t as good as it should have been, the ice fishing was great,” Baucke said.

Hole of mystery

Baucke is new to the Yampa River Valley but said he’s been ice fishing for all of his life.

“You never know what’s going to come through that hole,” he said.

After an hour of bobbing my pole the way I was instructed, pausing the endless banter between friends occasionally to scoop the accumulating ice, I thought I had a good idea of what was going to come through the hole.

Nothing.

That wouldn’t have killed me. I made the trip to Grand County to see friends. Anything I came home with was to be considered extra.

Midway through the day, though, my luck began to change. I got a nibble. Then another, and another. For five minutes, a fish played with my line, tasting my bait, and finally, he gave me a good, clean jerk.

Then he stopped, surely noticing that tasty treat was, in fact, a hook. The tension on the line was gone, my big catch suddenly a near miss.

After another half an hour without even so much as a hint of fish, we reeled in our lines to set out to try one final spot before heading back to warmth, and like Baucke warned, I found myself shocked at what came out of that hole.

Dangling from the line and with three big wiggles — the first signs of life in nearly 30 minutes — was one curious trout.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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