Monday, February 4, 2013

2013 Panguitch Lake Ice Fishing Derby

As I have for the past 3 years, I have been looking forward to this past weekend for weeks now!  Three years ago we held the first ever Panguitch Lake ice fishing derby as a benefit for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (WFF).  This first derby was a small gathering of mainly local wildland firefighters of the southern Utah area, along with a few family members.  Last year, we saw the number of participants grow quite a bit more, however most of the participants were still fairly local.  This year was impressive, we had participants from various parts of central and southern Utah, as well as a small group all the way up from Las Vegas, Nevada as well!  It has been amazing to see this event grow each year, in such a short amount of time.

With the added growth of the derby has also came the added sponsorship to it as well.  This year the participants were greeted at weigh in by an impressive stack of prizes donated to the cause by Cal-Ranch and Ace Hardware (both located in Cedar City), the St. George Sportsman's Warehouse, Shed Inc. in Panguitch, and donations as well by Steve Barker, Brian Burbridge, firefighting leaders from the US Forest Service, and Bill Roach, the Color-Country Interagency Dispatch Manager.  A big thanks goes out to these businesses and individuals, as all of the prizes were again donated, allowing 100 percent of the entry fees and raffle ticket donations to go directly back to the WFF. 

What a great day for fishing!  The event was kicked off at 8:30 by event organizer Brian Burbridge welcoming all participants and volunteers to the event.  After a warm welcome, Heather Talley from the Utah DWR presented information on fish identification and the regulations regarding the slot limit on Panguitch Lake (all cutthroat and tiger trout between 15-22" must be immediately released).  With this, the large group dispersed and the fishing began.

 I was fortunate to have made it home from Boise, Idaho the night before, as I had doubts at one time that I could make it to the derby.  Arriving home, I was thrilled to find that my oldest boy, Braden wanted to get up early to join my grandpa and I for the day.  Braden hasn't had the best of luck when it comes to ice fishing yet, I always seem to take him on the worst days!  As 5:30 rolled around, he wasn't so eager, but still wanting to go.  At the lake, Marvin, Braden and I had a tough decision to make; fish near friends, or escape the crowds.  We chose to escape the crowds in hopes of better fishing.  Fishing was initially pretty good, but in no time at all we found ourselves getting crowded out!  So, we moved further down the lake, again gaining isolation, and quickly got back into the fish again.

 Fishing was fairly steady until about noon when it really began to slow.  Braden was able to hook and bring in 4 really nice cutthroats, ranging from 16-18", all of which had to be returned.  My kids really like to be the ones to pick up the fish and let them go, so he had no hesitation to do so.  Later, as I explained how winning the derby went, he however became very concerned that we had really screwed up and should have kept the fish!  It was an excellent opportunity to teach my boy about fishing regulations, and how the slot limit has really increased the quantity of nice fish available to catch, and were it not for this we would be catching a ton of 12" fish instead of a bunch of 18" fish.  He liked the idea of that!  However, the mind of a 9 year old prevailed, and when the fishing slowed he wandered a 50 acre area trying to entertain himself.  Kids will be kids.

As the hours wore on we were met by fellow fisherman Dave Dodds, who informed us that he had an 18" rainbow that he was feeling good about.  The way fishing was going for us, I knew the bar had been set and we either needed a bigger slot limit breaker, or a larger rainbow than his.  As we continued to fish each fish seemed to get a bit bigger; 17", then 18, then 19, all cutthroats that we had to release.  Fishing was great for sure, lots of quality fish, but not what we needed.  Brian Burbridge then came cruising by reporting that the 18" fish by Dodds may win, but he also had heard of Kyle Gunn catching something good.  As he pulled away I realized we had little time to make it happen, but we were in the fish, it was a matter of time.

With an hour to go, I finally hooked into what I knew was the best fish I had caught all day, right off of the bottom in 12 feet of water.  Pulling the fish out I was confident that I finally had that 22" fish I could keep.  Pulling the tape out that hope quickly sank to despair as the tape showed just over 20".  Squeezing the tail, doing everything we could to stretch him out we could not get better than 21 inches!  Not quite enough so we turned him back.  Just a couple more 18 inchers is all we would get for the day, it was time to weigh in empty handed.

I was asked to help with the weigh in, so I set up a station on the tail gate to get started, anxious to see Dodds' and Gunn's fish that would win it.  Then Scott Stucki of Delta, Utah stepped up with the first fish, a football of a rainbow trout that was no doubt over 18 inches long.  I placed the fish on the tape and he hit 20" on the mark.  This would be tough to beat.  As fish after fish came in, we had a pretty tight race for second and third places, with a bunch of fish in the 16-18" range, but none came close to Scott's 20 inch rainbow!  Scott was able to hold that spot on the top, choosing as his prize a YETI cooler, followed by Dave Dodds with his 18 3/4" rainbow, and Kyle Gunn with his 18 1/2" rainbow.  Dave took home a Camp Chef outdoor oven, and Kyle took a Humminbird fish finder.

The awarding of the prizes was capped off by a long list of raffle prizes; some lucky participants walking away with some great consolation prizes including; turkey call and decoy, dutch ovens, ice fishing rods, spinning rod, apparel, and much more.  The WFF also contributed hats, stickers, and more in support of the event.  All totaled, the event brought in just over $2,000 that will go directly into the Wildland Firefighter Foundation fund, for families of fallen wildland firefighters!  This is what it was all about, a great group of people united for a great cause.  On behalf of organizers Brian Burbridge, Steve Barker, myself, and as well as all of the fire management staff of the Dixie National Forest, Color Country District BLM, National Park Service, and Utah Division of Fire Forestry and State Lands, a big thank you to all of those that participated in the derby, and thanks as well to those who could not make it but still donated to the cause.  Of course, a big thanks to Bill Roach who not only donated prizes, but also donated his time as our cook again this year.  Next year you owe it to yourself to come up and get yourself a bowl of Bill's amazing homemade chili!  I look forward to next year, keep it on your radar as it looks to be bigger and better once again!

Each year dozens of wildland firefighter's lives are taken by various causes as brave men and women fight fires in extreme conditions across our nation, fighting to protect our communities and natural resources.  This loss has devastating effects on the families they leave behind.  The WFF was formed in hopes of providing support to families who have lost loved ones on the fireline.  Each year the WFF is able to contribute funds to those families in an effort to provide support in their time of need.  Please check out the Wildland Firefighter Foundation to learn more about their mission, and to also see what you can do to help out those families in need. 

If you are interested in fishing Panguitch Lake, check out this post on what the lake has to offer:

As for ice fishing conditions and a report of what was working for us, click on the "fishing reports" tab at the top of the page for information on this lake, and others in the Southern Utah area.

Photography courtesy of Steve Barker

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