Icy greeting: Eager anglers head for fresh ice at Rifle Gap

Rifle Gap State Park ranger Brian Palcer points out where ice recently closed some of the last holes on Rifle Gap Reservoir. The east end of the reservoir remains open, and Palcer urged anglers to use caution elsewhere.



Eric Berhalter of Silt explains how last year he rescued another angler who broke through the ice at Rifle Gap Reservoir along the shore behind Berhalter. Berhalter always carries an ice rescue kit including this water-filled bottle wrapped with 50 feet of rope.



QUICKREAD

ICE FISHING TOURNAMENT

Anglers headed to the Rifle Gap Ice Fishing Tournament at Rifle Gap State Park Reservoir Saturday and Sunday will find plenty of ice awaiting them.

As for fish, that’s yet to be seen.

The tournament is open to all anglers paying the $50 entry fee (free to youths 17 and under).

Anglers must register in advance and the deadline is noon Friday. The tournament pays cash prizes for first through fifth place for longest rainbow trout, brown trout and yellow perch. Youth anglers are eligible for non-cash prizes.

State parks passes are required for park entry.

The tournament is sponsored by the Rifle Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Sportsmen Wildlife Fund and Colorado Parks and Wildlife fund.



RIFLE GAP STATE PARK — A scar of raw ice slashing across the mostly frozen surface of Rifle Gap Reservoir splits the new from the old.

The scar is a pressure ridge, formed as the lake gradually froze and indicative of the plate tectonics movement of ice caps on this and other frozen lakes.

Such ridges often are considered weak spots in the ice cap, a place anglers and skiers would do well to avoid.

But ironically, this particular ice ridge, snaking from the west end of the dam to near the boat ramp on the north shore, also is a good sign to anglers who have long-awaited the freezing of Rifle Gap Reservoir.

“I’ve talked to a lot of fishermen recently,” said Rifle Gap State Park ranger Brian Palcer during a brief conversation Sunday. “People are anxious to go fishing. You should have seen all the fishermen we had out here yesterday.”

Standing near the information sign on the dam, Palcer could look out and see numerous fishermen scattered across the 360-acre reservoir.

Most of them, with exception of a few daring souls, were around the islands and off the boat ramp where the ice was thickest.

Palcer, not surprisingly, is careful never to say the ice is safe, but he allowed as how there is up to 8 inches in places. He was out a few days ago depth-testing the newest ice, a snow-free spot as clear as isinglass about 50 yards across that formed in the last few days.

“It’s clear of snow because it was open when it snowed last week,” Palcer noted. “It’s pretty cool; the water is so clear you can see the bottom.”

On that trip, Palcer cautiously ventured out wearing the cold-water rescue suit he always carries during the winter months.

The ice that morning measured a meager 1.5 inches, enough to support Palcer’s weight but not enough to give him any sense of over-security.

“I think 2 inches is safe enough to be out but I was roped to another park employee, just in case,” he assured a visitor.

Anglers headed to Rifle Gap for the ice fishing tournament Saturday and Sunday would be wise to carry an ice rescue kit.

The reservoir’s cover is new and there still might be weak spots buried under the new snow.

Open water remains where East Rifle Creek enters the reservoir.

It was on 4 inches of new ice that Eric Berhalter of Silt was fishing Sunday with Dan Meskin of Silt and several other local anglers.

Berhalter, accompanied by his chocolate-brown Labradoodle Bella, said he never goes out on the ice without his rescue kit, which includes a water-filled bottle wrapped with 50 feet of rope.

“Last year, I helped save a guy who broke through the ice right over there,” said Berhalter, standing about 75 yards off the Bass fishermen’s access and pointing toward the campground across the lake. “There was a weak spot covered with snow and he never saw it.”

Berhalter spread his folded arms like wings.

“He was able to catch himself on the ice and I threw him the rope,” Berhalter said. “Once we got him out, he went over to an RV they had here.”

Still, it took the angler five or six hours to warm up, Berhalter recalled.

Berhalter and Meskin said the fishing was slow Sunday but had hopes it would improve by the weekend.

“The (fishermen’s) calendar said the fishing should get better Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Berhalter said, optimistically.

For Meskin, with nothing yet to show for his second-ever ice fishing trip, that was good news.

“I have my skates in the truck, do you think that ice is smooth enough?” he asked, looking across to where new ice sparkled near the open water of East Rifle Creek. “Maybe we should have brought a Frisbee.”

Palcer said he’s looking forward to seeing the reservoir covered with the 500 or more anglers expected for the two-day event.

“I try to talk to as many as I can and let them know they have to be responsible out there,” he said. “But with that many people, you never know what you’ll see.”


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