Ice fishing heats up

16th annual Mountain Air Mechanical Ice Fishing Tournament on tap

That’s not Robert Peary making an attempt at the North Pole, but instead an angler at Rifle Gap Reservoir readying for day of ice fishing. The popular reservoir 10 miles north of Rifle is the site of the 16th annual Mountain Air Mechanical Ice Fishing Tournament on Jan. 18-19.

While Rifle Gap Reservoir is reported to have 10 inches of ice in the middle, the ice at the east end is clear and cold and in places not thick enough to walk on. Anglers should look for at least 4 inches of ice when traveling alone and 6 or more inches for groups.

This brown trout was among the winners last year during the 15th annual Mountain Air Mechanical Ice Fishing Tournament at Rifle Gap reservoir. The biggest fish in three species wins $500 for the angler.

For many year-round anglers, the best part of winter finally arrives when there is enough ice on their favorite lake to drill a hole and drop a line through it.

Anglers are by nature optimistic, perhaps none more so than the stoic, heavily garbed crowd you see venturing out on ice-capped lakes and reservoirs.

For some ice-cap enthusiasts it’s only recreation. For others, it’s more of a passion.

And for the most passionate, the heart of the season begins Jan. 18-19 with the Mountain Air Mechanical Ice Fishing Tournament at Rifle Gap Reservoir.

This popular tournament, now in its 16th year, is followed by the Three Lakes Ice Fishing Tournament in Granby on Jan. 24-26 and the Collbran Lions Club Ice Fishing Tournament at Vega Reservoir on Feb. 2. 

Along with title sponsor Mark Jergen’s Mountain Air Mechanical, sponsors for the Rifle Gap tournament include the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Mule Deer Foundation.

A recent stop at Rifle Gap Reservoir found a handful of anglers scattered across the 350-acre reservoir, all of them variously involved in trying their luck and improving their hard-water skill.

It was reported there are up to 10 inches of ice in the main body of the reservoir with thinner (much thinner) ice toward the east end where East Rifle Creek enters.

“There’s good ice in spots but it’s smart to be careful,” said Parks and Wildlife employee Gordon Weir, who stopped while making his rounds. “I’ve heard some of the guys have been catching some nice trout but it’s been pretty spotty for pike.”

Perch fishing, said park volunteer and summer camp host Frank Falkey, can be real good or not.

“The ones who know what they’re doing are catching 20-25 perch a day but the others aren’t doing so well,” said Falkey. “They’re catching a few pike, a few walleye, but the trout fishing has been exceptional.”

If you’re fishing the tournament, it pays to know what you’re catching because the biggest fish can earn the angler some cash.

“We pay $500 for the biggest rainbow trout, brown trout and perch and other amounts for the second- through fifth-largest fish,” said Gina Reese-Long, events coordinator for the Rifle Chamber. “And in some years, one of the kids catches the biggest fish.”

Sorry, kids, but no cash for you. Instead, the tournament has other prizes for anglers 17 years of age and under.

And that means well under. Reese-Long said she already has a 3-year old registered.

“Last year, I had two, 2-year-olds registered,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a great family outing. We have 60 kids signed up already.”

The deadline for early entry was Jan. 3, when adult registration went up to $50, but Reese-Long said the deadline might be flexible depending on how fast registrations come in.

“Last year we had 433 entrants but ice fishermen always seem to wait until the last week to sign up,” she said on Thursday. “By now, I’m used to it. We have a limit of 400 adults and right now we have close to 200 registered.”

Those 400 adults, plus the younger anglers, who fish for free, and all the assorted gear are good reasons for the ice to be as thick as possible.

Plus, there will be weight of whatever fish may be pulled from the ice. Last year’s top brown trout was a 19-incher, indicative of Rifle Gap’s continuing ability to grow big fish.

The biggest fish in the reservoir might be one of the northern pike but so far there’s no category or prize for the biggest pike.

For registration information and tournament rules, go to


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