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Gone ice fishin’: Rods and reels not just limited to the summer months

EAGLE NEST LAKE STATE PARK – Bundled up against the afternoon chill, Joe Vallejos stares at his fishing line as it disappears through a hole in the ice and into the dark depths of Eagle Nest Lake, in Colfax County halfway between Taos and Cimarron.

Vallejos, 52, of Sandia Park, works for a national fishing bait company. He is out here on lake ice, 8½ inches thick, on a recent Wednesday testing some of his employer’s product.

The temperature is in the low 30s but feels colder because of the ice.

“If the wind is blowing, I’m not getting out on the ice,” Vallejos says. “But some people get a tent with a heater in it.”

Taos County residents Korey Mead, right, and Anthony Lovato check out their catch of kokanee salmon and rainbow trout after an ice fishing session at Eagle Nest Lake. (Robert Browman/Journal)

Earlier in the day, there had been perhaps 20 people ice fishing on the lake’s frozen surface, some of them cosily ensconced in shelters that can be heated while in use and packed up like a tent when the fishing is done. But now, as the day creeps toward twilight, there is only Vallejos and one other hardy fisherman standing, unsheltered, in the distance.

“Fishing is usually best first thing in the morning,” Vallejos said, lifting his short fishing rod occasionally to put some action into his bait.

Eagle Nest Lake is five miles long and two miles wide, spanning 2,400 acres. Its fish population includes – but is not limited to – several kinds of trout, yellow perch,

Joe Vallejos uses a hand-powered auger to bore a fishing hole in the frozen surface of Eagle Nest Lake. (Robert Browman/Journal)

kokanee salmon and northern pike, the latter introduced into the lake accidentally.

“I have pulled a 34-inch pike out of here,” Vallejos said. “But there are pike bigger than 40 inches in here.”

Watch your step

Eagle Nest Lake State Park is a popular destination for fishing and boating in the summer and for ice fishing in the winter. The Friends of Eagle Nest Lake and Cimarron Canyon State Parks is sponsoring an ice fishing tournament Saturday, Jan. 25, at Eagle Nest Lake. For details, go to friendsofeaglenestlake.org and click on events.

Other parks open to ice fishing when conditions allow include Heron Lake State Park in Rio Arriba County; Lake Maloya and Lake Alice at Sugarite Canyon State Park, six miles northeast of Raton; and Fenton Lake State Park, in the Jemez Mountains, 33 miles north of San Ysidro. Because ice conditions can change rapidly, it is wise to call parks ahead of time.

Falling through the ice into frigid waters is a deadly scenario, so state officials advise the following precautions:

• Do not fish alone. Inform someone of your destination and expected time of return.

• Wear life jackets.

• Be prepared for weather conditions by dressing appropriately (layers, thermal underwear, waterproof outerwear) and bring extra clothes, food and water.

• Keep fishing holes small (less than eight inches in diameter) and few.

• Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams, springs, docks, multiple cracks, dark-colored ice or ice that is popping or making other sounds.

• Spread out. Too many people in one area may be more than the ice can support.

Hit or miss

The sun has dipped below the clouds, spilling a layer of golden light over the icy lake and the snow-splattered, evergreen-studded mountains in the background. It is so still it seems you can hear the flapping wings of a crow flying solo.

Vallejos is fishing at a depth of seven- to- eight-feet in a section of the lake that is 18-feet deep. Just to the right of the hole he bored in the ice with a hand-powered auger is his fish-finder, a battery-powered sonar device that shows him what’s going on beneath the murky waters.

“Here comes a big school of perch,” he says. “Let’s see if they hit.”


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