OUT: Sunday Column February 15, 2009

It’s the time of year when ice anglers need to be cautious

This midwinter warming has brought thin ice to some lower-elevation lakes and reservoirs, indicating February might be the last month for hard-water anglers to enjoy their sport on some local lakes.

If the ice stays thick enough long enough.

“There’s no such thing as safe ice,” cautioned Zach Taylor, park ranger at Rifle Gap State Park.

“We already have a lot of open water on the east end of the reservoir.”

Last week, a park ranger at Chatfield State Park in Denver pulled out of the water a fisherman who broke through thin ice. Thanks to the ranger’s quick actions, the angler went home wet and cold but otherwise little worse for the experience.

However, it might have been calamitous had a nearby jogger not heard the man’s shouts.

The angler broke at least one of the Top 10 Rules of Ice Fishing: Never go out alone.

“Or at least wear a life preserver and carry ice awls to help you get out,” Taylor suggested.

He said Rifle Gap still holds plenty of ice around the boat ramp and west. Same goes for Harvey Gap, Taylor said, adding he’s relying on angler reports for that information.

Warm afternoons are causing some ice pull-back from the shores, a common occurrence in spring and something anglers should be prepared to see.

“And be careful about thinking just because it’s safe where you drill, the ice is thick everywhere,” Taylor warned. “You can move eight to 10 feet and be over thin ice.”

A list of ice-fishing good habits from Colorado State Parks includes never going out with less than 4 inches of ice and always assume unsafe ice conditions exist.

That holds even at Blue Mesa Reservoir, where ice might be 4 feet thick but suspended 30 feet over the water because of winter draw downs.

Signs of unsafe ice include: ice of different colors, water on top of the ice, cracks, pressure ridges, open water and bubbles in the ice.

If you do venture onto the ice, remember the following ice safety tips, courtesy of Colorado State Parks:

•  Never go onto the ice alone;

•  Avoid alcoholic beverages;

•  Wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD);

•  Carry a personal safety kit, including an ice pick, rope and a whistle for help;

•  Keep your pets on a leash when around a frozen lake or pond. If your dog falls through the ice, do not attempt a rescue, go for help;

•  Remember “Reach-Throw-Go.”  If you can’t reach the person from shore, throw a flotation device or a rope. If that fails, go for help.

Finally, no one can guarantee you that the ice is safe. The decision to go out onto the ice is personal. Take the precautions to reduce the risks.

A gentler, kinder BLM? — With the news the Bureau of Land Management has opted to defer a 907-acre energy lease sale in waters fostering two populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout,
we wonder what’s changed.

Oh, yeah, right, there’s a new president and a new view of a true multiple-use public lands environment.

“Deferring this single lease was simply the right thing to do,” said Corey Fisher, energy field coordinator with Trout Unlimited. “We evaluate a lot of oil and gas leases in trout habitat to make sure effective protections are in place, but it is not often that a lease contains one, let alone two conservation populations of these rare trout.”

There still are problems — the BLM office in Fillmore, Utah, continues to be stuck in 2004 — but recent changes in lease sales elsewhere indicate there’s a reduction of the pressure from Washington on local BLM field offices.

The recent deferment of the lease in Moffat County on the headwaters of the Little Snake River is “encouraging,” Fisher said.

The BLM deferral, along with some similar withdrawals by the Forest Service, indicated both agencies are “committed to working with sportsmen and other stakeholders to ensure oil and gas drilling is done responsibly.” Fisher said.

“It is encouraging to see our public land management agencies beginning to look before they leap into decisions that could significantly affect these small, but critically important parts of Colorado’s natural heritage,” he said.


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