Taking a lake break

With rivers running high, now is a good time to fish at area lakes

Two anglers in a small boat watch as a water-ski boat takes a wide turn across the surface of Rifle Gap Reservoir. The reservoir is down 30 feet below full and the state park’s website says the water is dropping about 3 inches per day.

The fish screen on Rifle Creek below Rifle Gap Reservoir serves to prevent non-native fish such as perch and walleye in the reservoir to from reaching the Colorado River. Partners involved in the project include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Silt Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The clear waters of Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap reservoirs are in contrast to the rain-swollen streams found across much of the Western Slope.

This seasonal break in the steamy, 100-degree weather came none too soon as warming and dropping water levels in rivers and streams had raised concerns from guide shops about possible long-term impacts to valuable fisheries.

Prior to the weekend storms, the Roaring Fork River was running about 365 cubic feet per second, low enough the website for Roaring Fork Anglers was cautioning anglers, “The water is evaporating! The Roaring Fork is dropping fast and you have to adapt your fly selections accordingly.”

Any further evaporation was curtailed at least temporarily when heavy rains Sunday across the Elk Mountains boosted river flows to 800 cfs in a few hours.

The flows have moderated a bit, as Colorado rivers do once the first flush of water passes, and as of Tuesday the river was down to 500 cfs at the gauge at Emma, just below Basalt.

Even with the added flows, the guides at Roaring Fork Anglers (800-781-8120) emphasized continued caution.

“As the Roaring Fork continues to drop, we urge a little discretion on your choice of water to float,” says the shops most-recent fishing report. “Given the current conditions, we don’t recommend floating above Carbondale on the Roaring Fork.”

Low water conditions also are found on local lakes and reservoirs, although such conditions are not unexpected this late into the irrigation season.

This would be a good time to explore lake fishing opportunities at some selected sites, at least until the weather settles and your favorite river or stream recovers a bit of balance.

The website for Rifle Gap State Park (parks.co.state.us) is full of news about water levels in the 350-acre reservoir, which as of Tuesday was 30 feet down and losing about 3 inches a day, according to the park’s website.

There also is a note about water levels where you can’t see them — the park’s wells in the campgrounds.

“Due to drought conditions, our wells are (trying) hard to keep up with our water needs. Be (sure to) use water conservatively,” reads the park report, a message worth remembering throughout the summer camping season.

The boat ramp was open but access is limited to one lane and the park report said a few hazards were starting to show “especially on the east end of the lake,” where the popular Brown Trout fisherman access is a bit of a walk away from the water.

Also, the park reports a shallow area just south and east of the boat. The area is marked by buoys, according to the report.

One result of the lower water level is less surface area, which brings more contact between the reservoir’s various users.

Anglers and water-skiers don’t always mix,

At nearby Harvey Gap Reservoir, water levels remain near full, thanks to continued flows through the six-mile long Grass Valley Canal, which feeds the reservoir from East Rifle Creek. The fishing report says anglers are catching trout at the dam.

So far, there have been no reports of anglers catching any of the 150 or so tiger muskies stocked earlier this year.

A recent trip wound up at Vega State Park, where water levels in the reservoir have dropped 3 feet over the past week.

Still, the reservoir has all three boat ramps open and fishing has been reported as good lake-wide. As of Tuesday morning the park remained under a Stage 1 fire ban but that may change as similar restrictions have been lifted across much of western Colorado.

All state parks offer free entry on Colorado Day, Aug. 5. The day is in celebration of Colorado’s statehood, granted in 1876.


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