By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
To the untrained eye, ice-fishing on Sloan’s Lake in Cheyenne on Tuesday seemed like a dangerous strategy.
It was 60 degrees with a warm breeze and water was pooling on top of the mostly iced-over lake.
On the eastern edges of the lake, ducks and geese were swimming along in open water.
But yet there were at least a dozen ice-fishers, three ice huts and one side-by-side vehicle on the iced-over part of the lake.
Cheyenne airport technician Braxton Rosner told Cowboy State Daily it was more than safe.
“It was 12 inches thick where I was, so it was really safe,” Rosner said. “Four inches of ice is the key to walk out on it.”
Ice Fishing Guidelines
When contacted by Cowboy State Daily, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Communications Director Nish Goicolea said those with knowledge about ice fishing were on vacation.
But on the department’s website, Bobby Compton, the Laramie regional fisheries supervisor, has a list of safety tips on the Game and Fish website for ice-fishers, including the 4-inch rule.
Compton also said to fish with a buddy, to wear a life jacket and to fish where there are other anglers just to be safe.
According to Colorado Fish and Game, rules of thumb for ice fishing is:
• 2 inches or less – STAY OFF
• 4 inches of good ice for a walking on
• 6 inches of good ice for a snowmobile or ATV
• 8-12 inches of good ice for a car or small pickup
• 12-15 inches of good ice for a medium pickup
‘Let The Buyer Beware‘
It’s especially important to follow these guidelines because there aren’t any lifeguards. You’re on your own.
Sam Payne, the deputy director for Community Recreation and Events for the city of Cheyenne, said the state Game and Fish department runs the lake but there’s no monitoring for safety.
“There’s really no regulation on it,” Payne said. “The lake itself is ran through Game and Fish, so they regulate all the fishing. I think every once in a while they might put out a warning sign, but that’s about it.”
Noted Wyoming Outdoorsman
Although the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is on vacation this week, noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich was available.
Ulrich said the pooling water and open water visible in the photo did concern him.
“That open water looks pretty close to me,” Ulrich said. “I wouldn’t put an ice hut out there.”
Ulrich conceded that he wasn’t there, but as long as ice-fishers check thickness of the ice no more than every 30 feet they should be good.
He said snow-covered ice should be avoided because snow has an insulating effect, which can keep the area warmer.
And stay to the clear ice, Ulrich said.
“If you see slush, run to the hills,” he said. “It ain’t safe.”
Slushy conditions weren’t something Ulrich saw when he went ice fishing with his sister and brother-in-law on Fontenelle Reservoir in western Wyoming on Monday.
“We had probably 16-18 inches of ice and we caught plenty of rainbows,” he said.
Although Rosner hadn’t caught anything yet at Sloan’s Lake, that didn’t mean it was a bad day.
“I’m out here fishing in a hoodie,” he said, referencing the warm temperatures. “So, yeah, it’s pretty good out here.”
Rosner said he heard the lake had been stocked with rainbow trout, bass and carp.
But since he was a practicing catch-and-release angler, it didn’t matter to him. He said he was just out there for the sport of it.
For Ulrich, however, it’s the full experience.
“We caught trout lake, rainbow and brown,” Ulrich said. “My sister knows what she’s doing, unlike me, so she’s going to smoke ’em up for us.”
Rosner said he hoped last week’s Arctic freeze laid the foundation for two more months of good ice fishing on Sloan’s Lake.
Wyoming meteorologist Don Day said that’s a good bet.
“Odds are the ice will stay through the end of February,” Day said.
“Even though there’s open water out there on Sloan’s Lake, there should be 4 to 5 inches, at least, in place through February,” he said. “That’s enough.”
Day, an accomplished ice-angler, doesn’t participate in the sport as much as he used to, but did offer up some suggestions where to go at least in southeast Wyoming where he’s based.
“I used to go out on the plains lakes outside of Laramie quite a bit,” he said. “But Wheatland Reservoir #3. Wow. 30-36 inches of ice. It’s great fishing.”
Day said Granite Reservoir and North Crow Reservoir were prime spots as well.
But for landlubbers like Jeff Gillotti, who ironically runs the Ice and Events Center in Cheyenne, the open water on Sloan’s Lake was clue No. 1 to stay off it.
“There was a guy out there with his hut and there’s water close over to the freeway and I’m like, what part of this isn’t frozen enough confuses you the most?” Gillotti told Cowboy State Daily.
In his defense, Gillotti said, he’s ice-fished plenty in Minnesota. And he has seen plenty of mishaps.
“Every year somebody waits too long and their truck ends up at the bottom of the lake,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen way too often.”
“That’s why I stick to the indoor ice,” he added. “It’s much safer although the fishing isn’t as good.”