Al Sandner has a secret. He uses mushrooms and mealworms when he fishes and this weekend his bait paid off when he caught a fish that weighed 0.65 kg (1 lb and 7 oz). It’s not even close to the biggest rainbow trout ever pulled out of Wilgress Lake, but it almost got him a top three position at the third annual Ice Fishing Derby this weekend.
As of Sunday, the top three fish have weighed over two pounds, but organizer Greg Sterling said that the lake is full of trout and that just a few weeks ago someone caught one that weighed around eight pounds.
“There are some monsters in there,” said Sterling.
The derby started on Saturday and ends on Monday. Entrants pay $25 for a family or $15 for individuals. They can set up anywhere on the lake, and Sterling says many of them show up at 6 a.m. to make sure they get their favourite spot.
While fishing is the highlight of the derby, the organizers also arranged for a snow sculpting competition. Sculptors made their creations on Saturday and judging was held on Sunday.
Anyone that came out to the derby was able to see a giant fish sculpture that had been caught on a rod, a triceratops, a mermaid and a snake. Once the sculptures were finished, they were painted before the judges made their decision.
Initially, Sterling was only going to award the top three places but he gave out top four because there weren’t very many entrants.
“Next year we are going to set them up closer to the highway so everyone can see them,” he said. He added that they have gotten a lot of people stopping in after they drove by and were curious about the activity. “It’s a great location.”
Sterling first organized the derby three years ago as a way to encourage families to spend time together.
“Right from the beginning, that’s what it’s been about -- family,” he said.
All the proceeds from the derby will go to local children and families who might need a little extra help when it comes to funding family activities.
“Hopefully we can make enough for kids that are less fortunate,” he said, citing examples of arts and sports as areas that families often come up financially short. “Maybe they need runners or gloves.”
Some families have told Sterling that they have never done anything with their children because of the costs, and he wants to help change that.
Sterling and co-organizer Danny Williamson work together with the Boundary Local Métis Association and the Boundary All Nations Aboriginal Council (BANAC) to help share the proceeds with community members.
As the event grows, Sterling hopes to be able to offer more for local families. Currently, he’s able to use the 65 acres his son owns along Wilgress Lake. He’s built cabins along the edge of the lake, one which was used as a first aid station during the derby; another allows him to be up early enough to get the derby set up first thing each morning.
He’d like to be able to offer more family-friendly events at the lake such as archery, survival courses, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and canoeing.
He wants to see families using the lake and says that everyone should explore the trails year-round whether they are skiing or going for a nature walk. According to Sterling, the trails are well defined, thanks to the use they get by fellow explorers.
“There are old mining sites back there,” he said. “People go horseback riding, cross-country skiing, there’s some hunting. They are well-used trails.”
Sterling is hoping the derby will continue to grow each year. This year the derby lost about 25 per cent of its participants from last year, because the event fell on the Family Day long weekend. However, when Sterling talked to this year’s participants they said they preferred having the event over three days and didn’t want anything to change.
Organizers are happy with the support they have gotten this year from local businesses and organizations, but they are hoping to get even more financial support next year from some of the bigger corporations.
“It costs about $2,500 to put this on,” said Sterling, adding that one of the biggest expenses is making sure the roads are cleared.
But there are definitely plans for next year’s derby.
And as for Sandner, he’s not giving up until the final weigh-in on Monday.
“We’ll have to wait ‘til tomorrow and see what happens,” he said.
The derby starts at 7 a.m. tomorrow and the final weigh-in will happen at 2 p.m. Anyone interested in taking part can sign-up when they arrive at the lake. Spectators are welcome to come and see the ice sculptures and get something to eat at the concession.