Word gets out about the fishing at Harvey Gap, Rifle Gap reservoirs
SILT — The photo on the cell phone screen showed a large brown trout, bright orange fins and mustard-yellow belly, long enough to extend well past Vincent Castorena’s wide-spaced hands.
“Man, that was last week at Sweetwater Lake, and he took a long time to land,” said Castorena on Sunday, holding the phone as carefully as he once held what he said was a 21-inch brown.
“I let him go, but wanted to get these photos — otherwise no one would have believed me,” said Castorena, at the moment looking forward to catching another big fish of a different species.
Putting away the phone, he looked at the glassy waters of Harvey Gap Reservoir.
Castorena said he and fishing partner Rob Olsen, both from Eagle, had driven the hour or more down Interstate 70 to this state park just west of Silt to test their skills against northern pike, a fish known to grow quite large in Harvey’s fecund waters.
“Guess we better get going before the wind comes up,” said Castorena, eyeing the jade-green waters of Harvey Gap Reservoir. “This place can get awful windy in the afternoon.”
The two were stepping into their small aluminum boat, already packed with life vests, lunches, tackle boxes and rods.
Hand-launched craft aren’t required to have a pre-launch inspection for zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species, so the boat and its occupants were soon adrift on the reservoir
A small trolling motor started pulling the two across the reservoir when Castorena called back.
“Stick around if you want a picture of another big fish,” he said with a laugh. “We’re going to catch a monster.”
A couple of pike up to 42 inches long have been caught this year in Harvey Gap, with even larger fish, some in the 20-pounds-plus range, being reported in recent years.
The reservoir also holds rainbow trout, yellow perch and some sizeable catfish.
The state’s free fishing weekend brought out boatloads and bankloads of anglers to both Harvey Gap and nearby Rifle Gap Reservoir, said Rifle State Park ranger Zach Taylor.
“We were swamped this weekend,” said Taylor, recalling the full boat ramps and busy swim beaches at both bodies. “I think people were ready for some hot weather.”
It certainly hasn’t been a great spring for either sunning or swimming.
May was unseasonably cool and wet, a fact re-emphasized by the deep snowpack across the northern mountains and the immense runoff expected for western Colorado.
West Rifle Creek, which feeds both reservoirs, is running more than bank full, forcing the closure of the city of Rifle’s Mountain Park, where the road is in danger of being washed away.
“I was up there in late May and water was flowing over the road at that point,” Taylor said. “Understandably there are some safety concerns.”
All that water means Rifle Gap is full and Harvey, at about six feet below full, may also fill this summer.
All that new water also means the fishing hasn’t quite met the season.
“It’s been kind of an odd year,” said Taylor. “Fishing at both reservoirs has been kind of slow until lately.”
Abundant snowmelt means full reservoirs but also keeps the water temperature down.
Bass spawning at Rifle Gap hasn’t really picked up yet, although there have been reports of anglers catching walleye.
“We’ve heard from fishermen jigging worms for perch and catching walleye instead,” said Taylor. “Usually the best places for walleye are along the dam, around the island and near the boat ramp.”
Both of these reservoirs can pick up a lot of afternoon wind and Sunday afternoon at Harvey Gap the wind started to pick up around 3 p.m., blowing a solitary paddler on a standup board all the way across the lake.
That wind makes the park rangers doubly insistent on the presence of life jackets on any craft going out on the water.
State law requires all youngsters under 13 to wear a life jacket at all times when on board.
“It’s something we emphasize to all our boaters but they’ve been pretty good about following the regulations,” Taylor said. “I was out last night on the (state) boat and we were dodging logs the size of the boat.”
At 4 p.m., Castorena and Olsen were far across the water, their boat working slowly along the weedy bank, still seeking that angler’s-tale pike.
Optimism and water are both in good supply at Harvey Gap.