FOXHOLM - Early success was minimal at the Souris River Basin Longbeards Annual Ice Fishing Derby held Jan. 8 on the lower end of Lake Darling. However, as the afternoon approached, the weigh-in station became a busier place. Hours for the derby were 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Gary Thomas, Minot, was among the earliest anglers to show up at the weigh station with a northern pike. Derby rules required that all fish be weighed before freezing. Thomas' pike weighed in a few ounces short of 7 pounds.
"It came out of nowhere. It hit a plain minnow," said Thomas, prior to heading back to his fishing spot. "It is cold out but I figured I better fish anyway."
Gary Thomas, Minot, was one of the first fishermen to bring a northern pike to the scale at the recent derby held at Lake Darling.
The derby was held despite high winds that caused some drifting snow the evening prior to the event. The wind was still brisk and temperatures in the single digits when the derby began.
"We had one about four years ago that was worse than this one," recalled Percy Ottmar, derby director. "That one was really bad. We couldn't drive around. They all had to tow each other."
Ottmar and other tourney officials were killing time, waiting in heated shelters near the official weigh-in scale during the initial hours of the derby. They weren't as busy as they had hoped to be.
"There's been times we've caught as few as six or seven fish. Now, with the perch category, we're getting in the hundreds. You never know," said Ottmar.
A few minutes later Mike Peschges of Minot arrived at the scale with a northern pike. It was a nice fish, weighing over 7 pounds.
"Just a minnow with a jighead, that's it," remarked Peschges. "I got lucky. It was the first bite of the day."
The bite improved as the day progressed. Forty-seven pike, 21 walleye and 170 perch were weighed by two-man teams. The largest fish in each category was a 12-pound, 15-ounce northern pike caught by Jason Haider of Foxholm and Troy Johnson of Minot; a 1-pound,14-ounce walleye caught by Jarrad Lessman of Minot and Dustin Heffta of Granville; and a 1-pound, 7-ounce perch caught by Tyler Piatz of Minot and Tim Smith of Burlington.
The team of Nick and Nicole Vannett of Ruthville won the pike competition with a total weight of 23 pounds, 13 ounces. The walleye division was captured by Lessman and Heffta with 7 pounds, 4 ounces. Brandon Sperling of Minot and Cody Duval of Surrey teamed to win the perch division with 11 pounds, 7 ounces.
Ten percent of the proceeds from the Longbeards event is donated to the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge.
"It's much more than turkeys for us. It's all conservation," said Ottmar. "We've donated money out here in the past to help with ramps and stuff like that. They appreciate it and we have a great working relationship with them."
Ottmar and Peter Yung, Minot, have team upped to organize and officiate all eight of the Longbeards ice derbies.
"I just try to help," said Yung with a smile. "It's just a lot of fun. We see the people and they enjoy it and we enjoy doing it."
"It's great," added Brian Lokken, Minot, a seven-year veteran of the derby. "It's a good cause, we have a lot of fun and give away a lot of prizes."
The cost to enter the derby was $50 per team with 150 teams signed up to compete. Nearly all showed up on the day of the event.
"We're happy to do it and we have a great bunch of guys who fish this thing almost every time," stated Ottmar.
The Souris River Basin Longbeards also organize and host an open water fishing derby at Lake Darling each May. This year's event is scheduled for May 11.