Breaking the Ice: Fishing and Kayaking Lake Granby

You just had to be there. That’s all I can really say about my recent fishing and kayaking trip, which was one of the most unusual and memorable outings that I’ve had in years.
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Doug Payne takes in the epic, snow-capped scenery at Lake Granby. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

You just had to be there. That’s all I can really say about my recent fishing and kayaking trip, which was one of the most unusual and memorable outings that I’ve had in years.

Last week I joined coworker Doug Skinner and his friend Doug Payne for some early spring fishing at Lake Granby. Skinner and I talked about this trip for weeks, so I was excited that our “water cooler” plans were finally coming to fruition. In addition, this was going to be my very first kayak/fishing trip. To prepare for my maiden voyage, I purchased a new Ocean Kayak, which, sadly, had been collecting dust in my garage ever since it arrived by freight truck more than month ago.

Needless to say, the anticipation of getting on the water was killing me. Even the short, 90-minute drive from my home in Denver to the Grand County reservoir seemed endless. Although I’ve made this easy jaunt hundreds of times before, this time I was like the impatient child on the family road trip who keeps asking “Are we there yet?” every five minutes.

My youthful enthusiasm was short lived, however, when we finally arrived at our destination only to discover that the lake was almost entirely frozen. Big bummer. We knew this was a real possibility before we left Denver, but we kept our fingers crossed that some serious thawing had occurred in the warm days leading up to our trip. No such luck. Although these conditions would’ve iced most people’s kayaking plans, “the Dougs” and I saw this, instead, as a prime opportunity to shake off our cabin fever and embark on a springtime fishing adventure. And that’s precisely what we did.     

After some quick scouting, we unloaded our kayaks and fishing gear, donned our life vests and launched at the Stillwater Boat Ramp. A small creek spills into this area of the lake, which gave us just enough open water to get our feet wet. Fortunately, warm temperatures and a mild breeze expedited the ice-melt. Like watching a time-lapse video, the ice and lake conditions seemed to evolve around us minute by minute. By mid-morning, we had plenty of room to navigate, and we were off and running.

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Doug Payne drops a line in a narrow strip of open water. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.
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The author’s maiden voyage in his new Ocean Kayak Malibu Angler XL. Photo by Doug Skinner/CPW.
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Doug Payne chills out in a section of “Slurpee” slush at Lake Granby. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

The rest of the day we explored narrow channels of open water, dodged patches of rotten ice and paddled our way through a maze of muck and mush. “This is like kayaking in a Slurpee,” commented Skinner as we forged our way through a large section of water and slush. Although this is certainly not what we envisioned when we originally planned this trip, the atypical conditions made for an incredibly memorable, scenic and fun outing. Simply stated: It was awesome. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, some of the best fishing and hunting trips often happen when my original plans go straight out the window (or get put on ice).

In addition to the amazing kayaking, the fishing was excellent. Gitzit jigs tipped with sucker meat were just the ticket to entice Granby’s resident lake trout (Mackinaw). Seemingly energized by spring fever of their own, the fish were exceptionally strong and feisty. The bigger trout bowed our spinning rods and towed our kayaks around like giant bobbers on the lake’s surface.

As the day progressed, we even learned how to use the half-thawed, half-frozen conditions to our advantage. At times, we wedged our kayaks into slushy areas to keep our boats from drifting. Then, we vertical jigged in the surrounding pockets of open water. It was a strange combination of kayaking and ice fishing that was both extremely productive and fun—truly a unique outing that you had to experience to fully appreciate.

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Doug Skinner with a Lake Granby Mackinaw. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.
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Doug Payne (left) and Doug Skinner display their catches of lake trout (Mackinaw). Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.
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On Ice: a group of lake trout and one cutbow. Colorado Parks and Wildlife encourages anglers to keep their limits of small lake trout to help manage fish populations at Lake Granby. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) encourages anglers to keep their limits of small lake trout to help manage Granby’s overabundance of small- to mid-sized fish. We did our part by bringing home several nice Mackinaw in the 15 to 22-inch range. Granby’s small “lakers” yield a bright-pink meat that makes for excellent table fare.

Although you’re allowed to keep four lake trout of any size per regulations, fisherman are encouraged to release Granby’s big “Macks” to help conserve the trophy fishery. Unlike their smaller brethren, big lake trout are extremely oily and greasy. As such, they taste terrible, which is another good reason to return them safely to the water.

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Doug Skinner discovers the cure for cabin fever. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.
Like us, these pelicans were thrilled to explore a little open water. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

If you’re considering a trip to Lake Granby, now’s the perfect time. Fishing should continue to improve in the upcoming days and weeks. Lake trout will prowl the shallows until around the first part of June, making them accessible to both shore fisherman and those fishing from small, hand-launched boats and float tubes. Fishing for rainbow trout and brown trout is also excellent in early spring. Best of all, Lake Granby should now be completely ice-free, providing easy access for everyone—not just overzealous kayakers.

For more information about fishing Lake Granby and other top springtime fishing destinations, see “Ice-Out Trout” on Colorado Outdoors Online. Visit CPW’s website to purchase a fishing license or to view the current fishing regulations.

Written by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a communication specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

3 Responses

  1. Wow, that looks like it was pretty amazing. Weren’t you worried about tipping? I have 10′ recreational kayaks (not open top) that I use for knocking around Larimer County reservoirs and lakes, and they can be pretty tippy. I want to buy a fishing kayak. They look more stable, but seeing that water made me think of having a wet or dry suit, preferably dry.

    1. Kurt, Thanks for reading and for your comments. All of the kayaks we had were very stable and were rigged/designed for fishing. The Ocean Kayaks (the grey and blue kayaks in the article) are very stable. You really have to almost try to tip in those things. Like I stated in my article, the conditions were slushy and we never attempted to tackle any hard ice. We were also very conservative with where and how we paddled. Obviously we wore our life vests the entire time. I stayed warm and dry the entire trip. But, again, my sit-on-top kayak is designed for a stable and dry experience. Thanks again for reading, and I hope you have a safe and productive fishing season! Colorado Parks and Wildlife also recommends that you take extra precautions when boating in cold weather:

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