Twin Lakes Derby Sees Record Numbers
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:
- Winner of Ruger M77 Bolt Action Rifle: Alaina Beiriger
- Winner of Ice Shack: Joseph Gornik
- Winner of Ice Auger: Andrew Bottolfson
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