EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Jerry and Joanne Peterson had never been ice fishing before - not when they lived in Illinois, and not when they lived in Montana - but now the Colorado residents have found something they enjoyed almost immediately, and they just might do it again.
The Petersons, who now live near Littleton, were in Vail visiting their daughter, Heather Peterson Surridge, for the weekend when the family decided to get outside and try a new activity. Michael Whitfield, a local ice-fishing guide, offered to show them around and give them a tutorial in ice fishing.
Nottingham Lake in Avon is a great place to try ice fishing, Whitfield said, but it wasn't open Saturday morning because of recent warm temperatures. So Whitfield drove west and ended up at Wilmore Lake, at the rest stop off Interstate 70 between Edwards and Wolcott.
The ice was thick enough, so he unloaded his gear and the Petersons joined him on the ice. He drilled about a dozen fishing holes, and within minutes, they had hooked a rainbow trout.
"Woo-hoo," Joanne said. "We got one."
Surridge looked on and mostly laughed as she and her parents caught fish. She loved every minute of being outside with them, sharing a fun activity together.
Joanne said Whitfield, who guides all kinds of fishing trips with Minturn Anglers, is so good at explaining how to do everything that she felt like a natural. She got the feel of it right away.
"You can see the pole heading toward the hole and you just snag it up," Joanne said. "It's just very simple."
Ice fishing is an activity that doesn't cost much and doesn't require a whole lot of technique. Sure, you need to be able to drill a hole - which you can do with a $60 or so manual auger or a $300 or so gas auger - and then you need to know how to bait the hook and read the signs from the fish down below.
Saturday's rainbow trout in Wilmore Lake were biting mostly by the shore, and they were all hanging out at the very bottom of the lake.
Jerry, who at first wasn't all that interested in going ice fishing Saturday morning, was enjoying it, too.
"I'm not an outdoors person," he said. "... (Ice fishing is) kind of fun. I'll do it again if they put enough money on the table."
Heather watched as her father tried the different holes that Whitfield drilled and smiled every time her dad pulled up a fish. She could tell he was excited about it, and he was.
Jerry called the excitement you get when you catch a fish a "very short adrenaline rush."
That's what Whitfield loves about ice fishing - that just about anyone can go out and do it and have a good time. Sure, if you're not catching anything it can get a little boring, but that's just like any kind of fishing, he said.
"It's a neat activity," Whitfield said. "The equipment doesn't cost a lot of money. You can come out here, take the family - it's just a fun, social environment."
Saturday was mild, but when the wind is blowing and the temperatures are colder, Whitfield often huddles in a tent made for ice fishing. It's a small sled with a tent shelter that pops up and you can sit in a chair underneath, protected from the elements. Whitfield said he could be comfortable inside the tent in a T-shirt, even with frigid temperatures outside.
The tent also acts as a dark room, and the ice illuminates beneath it, allowing you to look down into the water and see your fishing line and the activity beneath the ice. Some people set up heaters inside the ice shanty to stay warm, too.
However you ice fish, Whitfield said it's just about being outside. He grew up in Wisconsin, where ice fishing is practically a way of life, but in Colorado, it's sometimes overshadowed by the adrenaline rushes found through other winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.
There are still people around who do it, but you won't go out and find hundreds of people ice fishing on the same lake on a sunny day like you would in Wisconsin, Whitfield said.
That's what makes ice fishing in Colorado pretty special, though - there's a lot of solitude, Whitfield said.
"We could come out here and fish together and share an activity with each other, share a few laughs and maybe catch a fish," he said. "That's what it's really all about - just getting outside and doing something."
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.