A lovely day at Rifle Gap

Fish or not, it was a great trip on the ice at Rifle reservoir

It’s more than beginner’s luck, insisted Melissa Mitchell of Grand Junction after catching her third, and to this point the largest, trout of the morning Saturday at Rifle Gap Reservoir. Of the four trout caught by her group when this photo was taken, Melissa had three.

With a gibbous moon rising over his left shoulder, ice angler Dave Elthorp of Colorado Springs leans in to clear an opening in the ice at Rifle Gap Reservoir. Elthorp’s eyes rarely leave the electronic fish finder because it gives him instant 
notice of what is happening below the surface.

RIFLE — On a squinty-bright day on an ice- and snow-covered Rifle Gap Reservoir, it seemed there wasn’t much reason not to be ice fishing.

The Broncos were off, Friday’s storm had blown over, and there were the hopes the reservoir might give up a few secrets one week before the big ice-fishing tournament.

As it turned out, two out of three were the best most anglers could do.

“It’s pretty slow,” said Hayden Flesch of Grand Junction as he readied another small lure for the icy trip into Rifle Gap’s depths. “We have one trout on the ice, and that guy who just left caught a couple of perch, but that’s about it.”

Flesch and his fishing buddy Tony LaPorta, a broadcast journalism major at Colorado Mesa University who shed his coat in the day’s warmth, had everything going for them except cooperative fish.

“We even have a tip-up over there,” added LaPorta, waving toward a spring-loaded rig for northern pike halfway toward the bank. “We’re still waiting and figured it doesn’t hurt to try everything.”

A walk across the reservoir Saturday morning — ice being the great equalizer, allowing access to points unreachable in warmer months except by boat — revealed fishing, indeed, was a bit off.

Except, that is, for Melissa Mitchell of Grand Junction, who was reeling in her third rainbow trout of the morning when a camera-toting visitor happened to walk by.

“This is my best one yet,” exulted Mitchell, who was fishing with husband, Brian, and the father-son team of David Colvin (Sampsonville, N.C.) and Dave Colvin of Grand Junction.

When Brian Mitchell came over to unhook the fish, he discovered attached to it a length of fishing line and another angler’s hook, indicating one angler’s loss is another angler’s gain.

“This is the second time I’ve gone ice fishing, and I caught the biggest fish then, too,” said Melissa, giving the rest of the group a smile as bright as the day.

One hundred yards away, Darcie and Rollin Borawski of Rifle were enjoying the cloud-free day and the safe 12 inches of ice while waiting for the first bite.

“It’s our second time ice fishing, and we haven’t caught anything,” said Darcie, exhibiting the patience one would expect of a second-grade teacher at Cactus Valley Elementary School in Silt, which is where Darcie spends her weekdays. “We’re really new at this. I first went out with some guys who knew what they were doing and they caught lots of fish.

“Today, it’s been slow.”

Across the way, between the dam and the island, was the foursome of Dave Elthorp (Colorado Springs), Clint Ostermiller (Parachute), Brad Hart (Crawford) and Ryan Mentink of Silt Mesa.

When a visitor asked, they all said they were fishing over 25 feet of water, a response much different from the “I don’t know” response most of the other anglers supplied.

Each of the four had electronic fish-finders, which doesn’t in itself guarantee more fish, but it sure guarantees a lot more chances to catch fish.

Each of the quartet had perch on the snow, their target fish of the day with some obvious disdain for the better-known trout population.

“Ugh, he caught a ‘slimer,’ ” said one of the group after Elthorp landed a 12-inch rainbow and hurriedly stuck it back through the opening.

Despite the trout interruption, Elthorp was quite happy with the quality of fish from Rifle Gap, even though the object of his affection was an illegal transplant.

“I’ll gladly drive that far to catch perch like these,” he said, nodding at the two fish laying near his feet like small yellow-and-green footballs. “We just don’t catch perch like this on the Front Range. These are the best perch I’ve ever caught through the ice.”

Which is another good reason to spend time on the ice.

The 16th annual Mountainair Mechanical Ice Fishing Tournament is Saturday and Sunday at Rifle Gap State Park. Information at 970-625-2085, ext. 4, or http://www.riflechamber.com.


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