Stagecoach Stagecoach Reservoir was about as silent and peaceful as a frozen-over body of water could be on a Sunday afternoon.
Well, mostly silent.
Save for the occasional “whoop” from a happy fisher after a catch, a snowmobile ripping over the ice or a couple of jets streaming across the royal blue sky, the more than 80 competitors in the third annual Steamboat Great Outdoors Ice Fishing Tournament were too busy with their poles to make much noise Sunday.
Put on by Stagecoach State Park, the Sunday tournament saw dozens of fishers young and old lobbying for the day's best catches. The competitors had roughly six hours to drop their poles in the reservoir and catch fish, but only their top two fish lengths counted toward the $700 pot up for grabs.
Near the marina ramp sat Matt Kern and Dan Arena, a couple of Steamboat Springs residents who had little luck with their poles but used a makeshift beer garden to pass the time.
“We were here on Christmas Eve, and we killed it. We caught 16,” Kern said. “But that was between 2 and 4 p.m. Timing has a lot do with it.”
Around an inlet, things were a little more serious for Vail resident Steele Lewis.
A longtime fly-fisherman, Lewis was trying out ice fishing for the first time this winter. Using a thermo-imaging fish finder, Lewis sported a pair of 16-inch rainbows buried in a pile of snow around noon. By 2 p.m., he added to his pile with some 17-inchers.
“It’s been an in-between day today. Most have just 12- or 13-inchers. Most don’t keep those,” Lewis hoped aloud.
Across the lake, Aurora resident Russell Cook hoped the same. Cook took second place in last year’s tournament, but as the sun began to descend to the west, he and other members of his group began to toy with superstition, teasing one another with every 12-inch catch and cracking fresh beers with wishes it would somehow garner a last-hour streak of good luck.
Lewis and the Cook crew wouldn’t win the tournament, nor would any of them come in the top five. Tournament champion Justin Nott, of Steamboat, claimed that prize with his 38.5 combined inches of trout, including the day’s only 20-incher.
“I fished for three days coming into it,” Nott said. “Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning, I was just kind of poking around. It was pretty average.”
Travis Bryant, last year’s winner, grabbed second in 2014 with 38 inches. J May took third place with 37.5 inches, Andy Best was fourth with 36 1/8 inches and Lauren Hofschulte was fifth, losing the tiebreaker with Best with 36 1/8 inches, as well.
There were winners Sunday in the form of catch and fish length, but take a walk around the reservoir and rest assured, there were no losers.
If the fish weren’t biting, competitors passed the time on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, enjoyed some cold drinks, talked Broncos football and, most of all, complimented the blue skies and rising temperatures.
“This is fun,” Lewis said. “It’s my guilty pleasure now.”
And for the younger competitors, fishing poles from Cabela’s were given out, regardless of catch length or size.
Twenty-five percent of the fees went to the Oak Creek Fire Corps and its volunteers. Nott collected 35 percent of the pot, which was about $900 a year ago.
Regardless of year or what kind of prize money is up for grabs, though, Nott said there is only one sure bet at the Great Outdoors Ice Tourney.
“Twenty inches,” Nott said. “That’s what wins it every year. The guy that gets that 20 inches will win it.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll
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