By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby, a tradition for almost 40 years, has been canceled for 2023 because of the presence of non-native perch in Saratoga Lake.
The event, which at one time drew national headlines for naming international celebrities as the “king” or “queen” of the event, was canceled in what would have been its 40th year because of the presence of yellow perch, a non-native species which could wreak havoc on the aquatic ecosystem.
The event is planned to return in 2024.
The fish kill is planned for sometime in the fall, which means there will be no fish even available in time for next year’s derby, according to the state Game and Fish Department.
“Last summer, we discovered [yellow] perch in the lake during routine university sampling,” Alan Osterland, Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s fisheries chief, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “We manage that as a trout fishery, so having perch so high up in the system could be a problem for many reasons.”
The department will treat the lake with rotenone, an insecticide, this fall. Osterland said the plan is to restock the lake with trout next summer.
The fishing derby was started in the 1980s by C.J. Box, who has since become a household name for his series of Joe Pickett and Cassie Dewell novels.
“The chamber of commerce didn’t have any money, so … C.J. started the fishing derby,” former legislator and fourth-generation Wyomingite Teense Willford told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.
Box did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.
Willford said that back in the early days of the derby, the organizers would do silly things such as give out prizes for the best “hard luck” story or send out official invites to famous people, such as Prince Charles and Princess Diana or U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, to serve as the “king” or “queen” of the derby.
While none of the invited celebrities ever attended the derby, Willford believes if they had, the Saratoga community would have shown them a good time.
Osterland said the department is still investigating who was involved in stocking the lake with the illegal yellow perch, but he believes it is someone who enjoyed fishing for perch and wanted to do it locally.
“Stocking” could be a strong word, however, as Osterland said the person could have brought in as few as two yellow perch and the fish mate quickly and at a young age.
He said that if Wyoming Game and Fish Department staff believed yellow perch would be a viable species in the lake, the fish would already be there.
“We’re having to do all this work to try and protect aquatic resources all the way through that system all because of one person’s selfish act to try and create a fishery they want and not thinking of the ramifications,” Osterland said.
This is not the first time the department has had to treat Saratoga Lake for illegally stocked fish, but Osterland said it has been many years since this last occurred.
Once the perch were discovered in the lake, Osterland said the department immediately began getting in touch with local stakeholders about what the fish meant for the next 18 months at the lake.
Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce director Amanda Knotwell did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.