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Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby

Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby, Started By C.J. Box, Canceled Because All Fish To Be Killed This Fall

in News/wildlife

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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.

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Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby This Weekend

in Travel

Ice, fish and cash prizes will take center stage this weekend as one of Wyoming’s most notable ice fishing derbies — the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby — marks its 37th year.

From 600 to 800 anglers are expected to visit Saratoga this weekend for the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby, which will offer participants a number of ways to win prizes on Saturday and Sunday.

The derby began in the mid-1980s as a way to encourage winter tourism, said Stacy Crimmins, chief executive officer for the Saratoga-Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“A lot of things have changed from that original derby,” she said. “It has evolved into something just a little different, but something that is still a lot of fun.”

In its first days, the derby consisted of anglers trying to catch one of three trout that had been tagged and placed in Saratoga Lake. Anyone catching the tagged fish would claim the prize, however, in some years, the fish were not caught during the derby.

Thanks to the support of sponsors, the derby has since expanded its prizes to offer up cash awards for the largest three fish caught during the weekend and a $100 prize for the largest fish caught every hour of the derby.

“We still tag three fish so you can win up to $20,000,” Crimmins said. “You have a really good chance of winning some money. We’ve been told people like our derby because we spread the cash out.”

The derby even offers awards for anglers who catch suckers, a contest designed specifically to reduce the number of suckers in the lake.

“We pay for the largest sucker overall, the most suckers caught on Saturday and the most caught on Sunday,” Crimmins said. “We’re just trying to get them out of the lake. It seems to be working.”

A special derby will also be held for anglers under the age of 14, who can also win cash prizes for their catches.

All told, derby organizers will give away $6,000. Anyone catching one of the three tagged fish can win another $20,000, $10,000 or $5,000.

The derby runs from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. The biggest fish captured during the weekend, determined by adding the length and girth, will be worth $2,000.

“We’ve had some winners brought in during the last couple hours of Sunday,” Crimmins said. “It’s a wide open tournament. You might think you’ve go the winner early Saturday morning and then the winner will be caught Sunday afternoon.”

The anglers catching the second- and third-largest fish will also win prizes.

The entry fee for the derby is $35 for adults and $10 for fishermen under the age of 14.

For more information on the derby, visit Saratoga-Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce or see its Facebook page.

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