The 5280 Mountain Guide

November 2011

Catch of the Day

Never again contemplate “the one that got away.”

When I was six, I plunked down on a wooden dock on a Minnesota lake with a kiddie line, bucket, and bobber on my first fishing trip. It took just seconds for a little yellow sunfish to fall for the herky-jerky pattern of my hook. Soon, my pail was full. I had hoped to set them free, but when I tossed the little guys back into the lake, they just floated, dead. It was the end of my short-lived (albeit prolific) fishing career—until now. I’d signed up for a solo ice-fishing expedition on Grand Lake—and fully expected not to catch anything. That’s before I meet Grand Lake guide Bernie Keefe. The man is a fish magnet.

At a chilly 8 a.m., we ride snowmobiles across the ice until he picks a spot via his handheld GPS, drills a hole eight inches wide in the 12-inch-thick ice, and plops in a sonar unit—a device that detects solid masses (the fish show up as red smudges on the monitor). Ten minutes later, I pull up a 21-inch lake trout. Next, a 22-incher. Every time Keefe drills, I reel in a monster lured by his homemade bait concoction of fish roe. I have no idea how good of a guide Keefe is until other fishermen ride over to complain that they haven’t gotten a bite all day. I get two while they’re visiting.

Six hours later, I have a Ziploc bag of fresh fish fillets to fry up at home. Then Keefe asks if I want to catch a “really big fish.” At a “hump” in the lake where 30-inchers swim, he talks me through a gentle “jigging” technique so my bait resembles a bug popping out of the lake-bottom mud. Suddenly, the screen flashes: my big fish. I taunt it, entice it, and haul in some 40 feet of line until a giant trout flops onto the ice: 27 inches. Keefe snaps a few photos, and then we pour him back into the hole. This guy—unlike those sunfish from long ago—will live to tell the tale. —Natasha Gardner

Try It

When: January through March, when the ice is thick enough for traversing and drilling.

Where: Fishing with Bernie, Grand Lake, fishingwithbernie.com; book your trip early.

Cost: $300 a day

Attire: You’ll heat up when you snag a fish, but mostly you’ll be freezing your butt off. Dress in layers, a windproof coat, mittens, and rubber-soled boots.

Don't forget: A $9 Colorado Department of Wildlife fishing license. Visit wildlife.state.co.us.

Also try: Blue Mesa Fishing, Gunnison, $300 a day, bluemesafishing.com; Tightline Outdoors, Denver, $150 (two-day course), tightlineoutdoors.com