Colorado Parks and Wildlife offering free ice fishing courses

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PARK COUNTY, Colo. -- On a beautiful winter day, when many were hibernating indoors, a small pond at Staunton State Park was a rockin' and a reelin'.

"It's like a little block party out on the ice. Everybody's cheering for everybody," said Howard Horton with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Every few weeks, CPW officers lug ice fishing gear onto the ice, offering free ice fishing clinics across the state. CPW has offered at least 12 clinics this winter along the Front Range.

For families like the Hiatts, they represent a passing of the torch. Six year-old Hunter Hiatt attended the clinic with his father and grandfather. For the Hiatt family, ice fishing is a pastime handed down from one generation to the next.

"It's enjoyable seeing him love what I love to do," said Hunter's dad, Brandon.

However, even age-old traditions need new life. Hunter has started a new tradition of his own, kissing every fish he catches before releasing it back into the water.

"I sort of started him doing that a year ago and ever since it's been his good look charm," said Hunter's grandfather, Randy Hiatt.

Even if you don't believe in 'kiss and release fishing' and are more of a 'catch and release angler,' ice fishing has an appeal some outdoor sports do not. It's an opportunity to make memories while socializing with others.

"The smile's the same whether they're 8 or 80. It's truly the best part of my job helping people connect with that," said Horton.

That's one reason ice fishing and fishing in general seems to be growing more popular in Colorado. Last year, 806,568 fishing licenses were sold in the Centennial State.

However, many have not tried ice fishing, simply because they don't know where to begin. CPW's free clinics are a way to overcome that hurdle and learn a new hobby.

The next "introduction to ice fishing clinic" will take place this Saturday at Staunton State Park. You can register or join the waiting list online.

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