Steamboat Lake ready for ice fishing; Stagecoach isn’t quite there yet |

Steamboat Lake ready for ice fishing; Stagecoach isn’t quite there yet

Stagecoach Lake, seen here in 2018, has frozen over, but conditions are not yet consistent. Steamboat Lake is ready for fishing.
Michael Armstrong/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Conditions are not yet ready for ice fishing at Stagecoach State Park, which led to the cancellation of the massive annual tournament typically held there the first week of the year.

However, Steamboat Lake is frozen over. The conditions are a little strange, but the lake is stable and the fishing is great.

Brady Wettlaufer of Steamboat Fishing Adventures said he and other anglers used to bet on when Stagecoach Lake would cap, or have a sheet of ice across the entire lake.

He can’t remember exactly when it typically happens, but considering his fishing tournament is usually the first Saturday in January, the ice is a little late this year. However, it is not entirely of the ordinary because the lake is still within its normal range for freezing over, even if the cap is taking a little longer.

A Facebook post from Stagecoach State Park on Dec. 27 said the lake was frozen over with five to seven inches of ice, but conditions are not consistent, so people should be cautious.

According to the state park, conditions in the middle of the lake are “debatable,” but near the shoreline, there have been reports of up to six inches of ice.

Just 45 miles north, Steamboat Lake is frozen over.

According to Steamboat Lake State Park, the 1,000-acre lake capped on Dec. 15, and Wettlaufer has been guiding for two weeks on what he calls crazy conditions.

“Almost impassible slushy,” he said. “There’s drifts out there; there’s so much snow on top of early ice.”

Ideal ice development occurs when there is no snow and it’s extremely cold. Those conditions create solid, clear ice.

With wind and snow and changing temperatures, white ice forms. White ice has air in it and has about half the structural integrity of clear ice. So, if there are six inches of white ice, it’s equivalent to about three inches of clear ice.

Wettlaufer said he’s witnessed six inches of ice with a layer of slush, then snow drifts. On average, he’s seeing about seven to nine inches of ice, but about half of that is white ice.

“It makes for some wild conditions out there,” he said. “It’s really crazy.”

The layers have tested his equipment, breaking both his Argos, which are amphibious all-terrain vehicles, and multiple snow machines.

Just because Wettlaufer and other people are on the ice doesn’t mean anyone should walk onto the surface of the lake.

“There’s absolutely no need to ever risk your safety or anybody in your party for going out early for a fish,” Wettlaufer said. “No ice is safe ice. You have to check it yourself. That’s the only way.”

Anyone looking to step onto ice should take necessary precautions. Wettlaufer suggested taking a few steps onto the ice, punching a hole, inspecting the depth and repeating. Four inches of clear ice is enough for someone to walk on.

Wettlaufer’s fishing tips for Steamboat Lake

Brady Wettlaufer of Steamboat Fishing Adventures has been ice fishing for 25 years and professionally for seven.

He’s been guiding on Steamboat Lake for the past two weeks since the lake capped, or froze over entirely. Since then, he’s been having a lot of success with clients.

“Steamboat Lake is extremely intimidating because it’s large,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing or looking for, you’ll take a goose egg, you’ll skunk in two seconds, you’ll walk away with nothing. But there’s structure out there that’s unmatched — nothing like Stagecoach. Stagecoach is more of a big fishbowl.”

Wettlaufer has been fishing 10-12 feet deep off of structured dropoffs.

“We’ve been getting into some monster fish,” he said.

Safety is the biggest concern on the ice, especially since there is little cell phone reception near Steamboat Lake or Stagecoach Reservoir. It’s important to tell people where you are going and to wear or bring buoyant items that can provide life-saving support in case of an emergency.

This time of year, as ice continues to form, it’s OK to hear and feel loud cracking and popping. That means the ice is growing. However, hearing that in the spring, means it’s time to conclude the ice fishing season.

“Pay attention to where you’re at and don’t stray out into the middle of nowhere,” Wettlaufer said. “There’s no reason to go walking out into the middle of the lake. There’s no reason to do that, especially in the early season.”

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