Coming up over the ridge on Highway 82 last Saturday into Twin Lakes, two words came to mind: brrrr and wow! The former referred to the sub-zero temperatures that greeted competitors who had set up on the ice Friday night, before the official 7 a.m. start of the longest ice fishing derby in the region. It was cold, bitterly cold.
First-hand weather accounts from generational competitors like the Leadville Marcellas noted a minus 11-degree temperature reading, prompting concerns that their tried-and-true heaters might not bear up – fortunately, they did. The sun eventually made an appearance as the thermometer steadily climbed closer to freezing throughout the weekend. Hey, it IS ice fishing, after all.
And while the “brrrr” eventually thawed, the “wow,” never did. There were a lot of people at this tournament, many more than years past. The sheer number of colorful shanties which dotted the edges of the glacial lakes told its own story, which was confirmed by derby organizers as Leadville Today checked in at the weigh-in station on Saturday (2/09/2019) morning.
“We have been BUS-Y,” said Derby Organizer Angelina Salazar, juggling the task of registration with the measuring and scaling of fish continuing to stream in as a run of rainbows was already tallying up on the leader board. The place was hopping. The final official count was 273 adults and 37 kids, for a grand total of 310 competitors at the 2019 Ice Fishing Derby at Twin Lakes. That’s up nearly 70% from 2018 which saw 215 competitors and even that was a sizeable jump over the 2017 comeback year of 129 sign-ups. That rise is certainly a testament to the growing popularity of the sport, as well as the many Midwestern transplants to Colorado who have brought along their childhood traditions of fun-on-ice.
But for the Twin Lakes tournament, the spotlight can also be cast on the event’s organizers, Angelina Salazar and Dan Gurule, the brother and sister team that has put some fresh bait on the line for the region’s longest event of its kind. Last weekend marked 21 years for the derby which is sponsored by the Leadville Rod and Gun Club (LRGC), a private, non-profit which maintains a public shooting range located near Leadville and offers a variety of fun and educational shooting and fishing events throughout the year.
Of course, like many Lake County events, the derby has seen its shares of big-catch years, as well as the ones-that-got-away. During its formidable years, Larry and Sandy Mason coordinated the event. But when they moved away after retirement, the derby floundered a bit and by 2016, the club decided to take a “gap” year, and re-group. It was during this time that Salazar and Gurule put together a plan and presented it to the LRGC. Finally, there was a fresh hit on the line, and by 2017 the Ice Fishing Derby at Twin Lakes was back on, regaining significant traction and building each year since.
“I think it’s great,” said US Forest Service employee Steve Sunday with the Leadville Ranger District who was on-site this weekend. “It’s the most people I can ever remember seeing.” The derby is possible by a special permit from the USFS. Currently, a five-year permit is in place.
Since the event takes place on federal property, the USFS monitors safety, assuring that basic rules and regulations are being upheld. For example, it’s the forest service who ultimately determined that no “road” vehicles were allowed out on the ice, leaving the side-by-sides and snowmobiles to do the heavy lifting when it came to hauling the gear out to ice-camping spots. Sunday said that he had measured the ice one week prior to this year’s derby, reporting 24” just 50 feet from the Dexter Point boat ramp. He also drilled a 19” hole in the middle of the frozen tundra. While those thickness measurements might seem suitable for heavy vehicle traffic, many, including USFS officials, still hold the memory of that truck sinking into a soft spot out on the ice “some years ago now.” This year, common sense prevailed again; it was a good call, especially as participation and crowds for this event grow.
Besides, all-terrain vehicles just seem to be part of the outdoors’ gear list these days. In fact, from a bird’s eye view Twin Lakes was transformed into a micro, winter city, with a series of icy sub-divisions, housing multi-colored shanties and temporary traffic patterns, allowing snowmobiles to criss-cross the frozen lake, as folks visited with their temporary, tournament neighbors.
“We never expected it to be that big,” said Angelina Salazar. Thankfully, the siblings have a well-oiled team in place that was prepared to hit the ground running when the fishing-folks started showing up on Friday afternoon.
You see, for this family, what used to be an annual get-together every February has turned into a family reunion with a purpose, as relatives come together from near and far to pitch in and help run the event. It’s that family-friendly atmosphere that has the derby gaining a reputation, prompting industry experts like Western Slope Ice Fishing Rentals LLC to take to social media: “This might be the show stopper here in Twin Lakes!”
Of course, it goes without saying that the Leadville Rod and Gun Club is the event’s primary sponsor and has been for 21 years. LRGC members Chris Cary and Jim Vosberg were on hand to coordinate the annual rifle raffle, which SOLD OUT this year – a first! Club members also helped with the official weighing and measuring of the catches. Cary emceed the high-noon Awards Ceremony on Sunday, an event that has become a festive celebration of fishing folks swapping tales and seeing who won the top cash prizes, as well waiting for their chance on a plethora of giveaways. Here are those winners:
In addition, the tournament always has a few fun prizes, like the trophy for the “Smallest Fish: which went to Bart Dickerson’s rainbow trout, which came in at .68oz, 12.5 inches. Also awarded was the competitor who tallied the Longest Distance Traveled to the derby. Congrats to Bryan Zink from Johnstown, OH who drove 20 hours and 39 minutes to spend a couple days on the ice in sub-zero temperatures. Thanks for making the trek.
New this year, the derby had some nominated categories. The Outstanding Angler award went to youngster Mario Medrano and the Best Sportsmanship trophy was bestowed to Justin Dober, a long-time derby supporter and an all-around good guy. And finally, it’s with great humility that Leadville Today reports its receipt of the Outstanding Media Coverage award for the 2019 Ice Fishing Derby at Twin Lakes. Publisher Kathy Bedell accepted the award on behalf of the LT team, noting that the derby organizers were great to work with, making it easy to put out the good news about this annual event.
But in the end, it’s all about the fish, so here are the
Did you know that the Ice Fishing Derby at Twin Lakes is known as the longest, competitive ice-fishing derby not only in the state but across the region? That’s no fish tale either! There’s no break in the action, as competitors kick-off early this weekend on Saturday morning, Feb. 9 at 7 a.m. and continue overnight until noon on Sunday, Feb. 10.
If you think that sitting on a frozen lake plunking your line into a fishing hole carved more than 12 inches deep into the icy tundra is all there is to the sport of ice fishing, think again! There are good times with family and friends, not to mention the incredible views, fresh air, and mountain sunshine. Of course, the sport itself has its own rewards, but judging from the growing success of the Ice Fishing Derby at Twin Lakes in recent years, ice fishing is becoming increasingly popular across Colorado. So plan on checking out the action this weekend, as a competitor or spectator!
Sponsored by the Leadville Rod & Gun Club, the event marks its 21st year in 2019 and has a solid reputation for frozen fun that creates a shanty-town wonderland, bringing folks together for a mid-winter contest of cash and prizes. And no doubt, some of the fish being pulled from that glacial reservoir are impressive, setting the tone for bragging rights that keep local fishing men and women coming back for more; and yes, there’s a kid’s competition too!
Competitors can enter to win cash prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for Mackinaw, Rainbow, Brown and Cutthroat fish. Prizes will be awarded on the weight of individual fish caught. Last year’s competition saw a sizable jump in participants with well over 200 competitors vying for the top trout tales. And when you consider those big mackinaw monsters they’ve been drawing up to the surface, the competition is nothing to dismiss. Take the year that Charlie Black’s 30 lbs 5 ¾ oz mackinaw won the blue ribbon of the derby! And Chris Gonzales’ second place catch with his 27 lbs 3 5/8 oz catch was a worthy competitor as Twin Lakes definitely gives up some of the beasts its gained a reputation for in ice fishing circles.
Each fish category has several places. A contestant can enter as many fish as he wants but the LRGC limits each fisherman to winning one cash prize. In the event of a tie weight, the first weight fish in wins the highest-earned prize and the next in the tie would follow in placing. Fish weights and sizes will be posted at the official event headquarters and weigh-in station during the derby weekend is staged at the Twin Lakes Dexter Parking lot.
All competitors should note that all federal, state and county fishing rules apply. It is the responsibility of each fisherman to know the rules and abide by these rules. Fishing regulations will be on hand at the contest and headquarters for reference guides. A current Colorado fishing license must be shown to claim a prize except for youth under age 16.
This is also a great outdoor event for the children, passing down family traditions of winter recreation. And according to Derby Organizer Angelina Salazar, there is a change to the children’s competition in 2019.
“We are letting 16 years and under join as a child. Because if your 16 and older you have to buy a fishing license,” explained Salazar. Therefore children age 16 & under who participate and place in categories will be eligible for a 1st place belt buckle. Trophies will be awarded to 2nd and 3rd winners in each category. There is NO entry fee for the kids’ competition. However, please note that should the kids decide to enter the “big” competition they can, but once they select their category they cannot switch back (i.e. from trophy to cash prize) and they will pay the same entry fees as adults.
Also, new this year will be an award for the “Best Sportsmanship” and “Outstanding Angler.” Competitors can nominate their fellow fisherfolks at the official Leadville Rod and Gun Club weigh-in and registration trailer, located out at the Twin Lakes Dexter Parking Lot.
“We will be at the weigh-in station at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning for you early birds,” said Salazar. Competitors can also pre-register at the Leadville Sanitation District office at the corner of McWethy Drive and Highway 24 South and at Saturdays Mercantile, located south of Leadville at 12655 US-24, across from the Little Red Schoolhouse. The entry fee is only $40. For an application CLICK HERE.
For competitors motivated by great swag, the LRGC delivers, offering some top-of-the-line “bucket” prizes. Each paid contestant will be eligible to win those prizes. Last year, the club gave away over $8,000 in prizes, reported event organizer Angelina Salazar. The entry fee will make the fishermen eligible for numerous bucket prizes which will be on display at the contest headquarters. Drawings for donated items must be picked up the time of the drawing. Items that are not picked up will be drawn until given away. Last year, it seemed no one went home empty handed!
And don’t forget about the raffle which includes the top prizes of a portable ice shanty and an ice auger, as well as this year’s Ruger M77 Bolt Action .22-250 with a scope. Tickets are $5 each or take 6 for 20 bucks. You can hit up a LRGC member or contact event organizers Angelina Salazar at 719-293-0567 or Danny Gurule 719-293-5057 to purchase your tickets (available at the derby as well). For the raffle, winners need not be present to win those prizes, but they must be picked up within 30 days.
The Leadville Rod & Gun Club can be reached at P.O. Box 604, Leadville, CO 80461. Or contact LRGC derby organizers Angelina Salazar at 719-293-0567 or Danny Gurule 719-293-5057.
Leadville Today will be there, so stay tuned for all the fishing action, photos, videos, and results. It should be a fun winter weekend! So pull out your shanty, grab your pole and auger and head out for some winter fun – and what may be the biggest fish you ever catch.