Ice fishing is by no means unique to Coloradans, but in a state full of outdoor enthusiasts, Old Man Winter and his blustery chills certainly has not hampered our desire to go rip lips. Over the last 15 years the sport has grown exponentially, to the point now that if you’re planning on hitting the hard-top on a weekend its best to be prepared to share the lake with a few dozen, if not hundreds, of your closest friends. With that in mind we’ll be discussing Eleven Mile Reservoir, which offers the chance to land a trout (or pike!) of a lifetime, but also is one of the most pressured ice fisheries in the state.
Ice fishing for many shore anglers represents the only opportunity to have an entire lake/reservoir at your disposal—unless you’re lucky enough to own a boat for the summer months. From mid-December until Easter (in some years), you are no longer confined to the skinny water between you and a long cast. This is why the sport has grown so much. Well, that and the fact that winter’s cold water in no way deters trout from playing the game!
Regardless of the year, the ice at Eleven Mile always has three distinct stages:
First Ice—This is the best time to take advantage of what ice fishing has to offer. In the week to two weeks leading up to Christmas is when we find trout to be in one of their most aggressive feeding moods, as well as the fact that this is the least amount of pressure they’ll see until spring. Fishing this stage requires a certain amount of caution and it is imperative that anglers have a good understanding of where the ice originates. Ice always forms first over the shallowest water and continually progresses to the deepest parts of the lake until it is all capped. The best advice for fishing during this time is that if you are not comfortable with it, stay off. As a general rule of thumb, if you have 2 inches of solid hard ice it can support your body weight.
Mid-Winter—Think of this as the dog-days of ice fishing. Fish have now seen nearly every lure the sporting goods store has to offer, and as such the pure amount of pressure can make the actual catching very slow. They are still there to be had but this time of year on Eleven Mile is going to take a bit more time and energy.
Late Ice—Spring is coming and the fish know it. This is the most overlooked period of ice fishing for both trout and pike at Eleven Mile. This system holds a large population of Cutties and Rainbow trout, which both spawn in spring time, so with ice still on the lake you’ll begin to see them stage in the back bays and inlet of the reservoir. Pike are also in spawning mode this time of year and in many cases are staging near the inlet area as well. Best advice is to park at Sucker Cove and hole up near the inlet during this period. With that said, caution is in order. Spring brings warmer temperatures so err on the side of caution if the ice is starting to melt or you just have a bad feeling. If that’s the case, no worries, just bring the long rod along because the Dream Stream should be heating up around this time anyway!
Other advice to think about while conquering the giant reservoir:
As previously mentioned the inlet is the most fertile part of the lake and where you’ll find the most actively feeding fish, but this is no secret to the many competing anglers you’ll find out there. The best advice here is if the inlet area is too crowded pack up and leave for the far eastern section of the lake. You’ll still find a good amount of fish and a quarter of the crowds.
There are, and always will be, huge fish in this system but as we all know big fish did not get big by being dumb. This is especially true at Eleven Mile where the large trout are loners and can literally be anywhere at any given time. There is no
golden rule to finding one of these piggies but based on their reclusive nature from too many jigs in the water, its best to leave the crowds behind and get the heck away from everyone else on the lake. Find a deep section of the lake, 25 feet and below, and fish the abyss!
Lowlight hours are key to ice fishing for trout. Your first 30 minutes on the ice in the morning can often be your most productive of the whole day. During this lowlight period its best to fish your jig anywhere between the 6-15 foot depth for actively feeding fish and as the day progresses, you’ll find they slip into deeper and deeper water.
Also, do not be afraid to move if you have not caught or spotted any trout in your hole. Ice trolling can be extremely effective if you pack light gear and have a good partner willing to move around. By drilling 10-20 holes within a given area, granted the crowds have to be at a minimum, you’ll be able to fish a hole for 10 minutes and if you’re not getting any action can move on to the next hole. This process gives you fresh water to fish as well as the chance at finding untouched trout.
Of course all of this is a moot point unless you get out there and crack a hole in the ice! Get out there, stay warm, have fun and put a bend in that rod!