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Outside: Chill out close to home with ice fishing at St. Vrain State Park

Even if it is more low-key than a trip to the slopes, safety is paramount and checking conditions before an outing is key to a good day. Ranger Scott Reffel recommends the ice be at least 4 inches thick for fishing.
Darrell Jacquez's set up during a recent day of ice fishing at St. Vrain State Park.

Winter in Colorado has a lot to offer with skiing and snowboarding, but what about staying closer to home with something a little more laid back?

Ice fishing has been a tradition at St. Vrain State Park since it became a park 55 years ago. The park sits just east of Longmont and contains 10 ponds and a reservoir. Each one is unique and has something different to offer, including a range of fish from trout to bass to catfish. The variety gives anglers a lot of options, making the park unique to the Front Range.

“It’s a good thing to do for those who have time to pass. Keeps you out of trouble. It’s therapy for me,” said Darrell Jacquez, a local fisherman who was enjoying ice fishing at the park on a recent afternoon. “I come out here to do it for a few hours a day. I go up to the mountains a bit, too, but this is so close to me.”

Jacquez said he managed to snag about seven fish the day before and the relaxation of being outside sitting on the ice, along with the simplicity of ice fishing, brings him back almost daily. 

“You’ll want to check the ice near the shore and where you’re going out to. That’s what we recommend to do,” said St. Vrain Park Ranger Scott Reffel. “We have ice rescue stations on pretty much all of our ponds ... but they only work if someone is nearby to rescue you.”

2021_02_04_LL_St_Vrain_State_park2Darrell Jacquez heads to his tent during a recent day of ice fishing at St. Vrain State Park. By Matt Maenpaa / For the Leader
Safety is a big priority when it comes to ice fishing. As Refell said, anyone out there needs to check the ice conditions before stepping foot on the ponds. The rescue stations are essentially what you think of when you hear “life saver,” or more officially called a Kisbee Ring, that would need to be thrown by a bystander to anyone in danger.

Once submerged in cold water, people quickly run the risk of shock and eventually hypothermia, according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety. Cold shock can happen within minutes, and leave someone gasping for air and disoriented. Hypothermia takes about a half-hour to set in, but can be deadly.

2021_02_04_LL_St_Vrain_State_park5An ice rescue station at St. Vrain State Park. By Matt Maenpaa / For the Leader
St. Vrain State Park regularly provides conditions for ponds on its website so people can check to make sure the ice is thick enough. Reffel recommended the ice be at least 4 inches thick for fishing.

“We still get people fishing on 2 inches of ice, it’s just not as safe and typically on ponds like this, the shoreline freezes and thaws differently,” Reffel said. “What we’ll have happen usually late in the season is the shoreline starts to thaw and guys will get out on the ice and they’ll be on a good chunk of ice but then there will be no way to get back to shore.”

Officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife say the season for ice fishing at St. Vrain State Park has grown shorter in recent years. While it used to last for at least two to three months, now the season barely makes it from late December to the end of January, so it might be too late for safe ice fishing. That’s why doing a little bit of homework before an outing is essential.

2021_02_04_LL_St_Vrain_State_park3Darrell Jacquez hangs out in his tent during a recent day of ice fishing at St. Vrain State Park. By Matt Maenpaa / For the Leader
Ice fishing gear is pretty straight-forward, Reffel said. The rod for ice fishing is fairly short because the line is simply dropped into a hole and doesn’t need to be cast. 

In addition, an ice fishing trip requires some way to drill into the ice. An 8-inch drill bit will work in almost any pond or lake in Colorado, Reffel said. 

Finally, a life jacket or some other floatation device is a good extra safety measure. 

Reffel offered one last piece of advice: “Be aware of regulations. Some of the ponds here are trophy bass ponds and one of them doesn’t allow bait. Two of the ponds here, you have to return all bass once you catch them, and those regulations don’t change just because it’s winter. Basically, do the research beforehand.”

You can find more ice fishing updates from St. Vrain State Park on its Facebook page.
St Vrain Lake (4 of 8)A snowy scene at St. Vrain State Park. By Matt Maenpaa / For the Leader